Blocks. Chairs. Macaroni. Mounted fish. If Benny Willoughby sees it, he says hello to it. At first, his parents are amused, but before Benny’s “Hello Week” is over, his mother wonders, “When will all this hello-ing stop?”
“Hello Week” is a great story for the read-to-me audience, and, since Benny says hello to many common household items, it has a wonderful point-and-say interactivity.
Here’s a Q&A with the author and illustrator of “Hello Week,” William Walsh and Kim Edge:
How did you begin working on Hello Week?
Kim: Bill and I started working together at Brown University back in 2000. We worked in fund-raising, producing publications. I worked as a designer and Bill as a writer. We talked a bit about collaborating on a children’s story, and one day Bill emailed me the text for “Hello Week.” I found little free time for my illustration work the six years I worked at Brown, and it wasn’t until I moved to Austin, Texas, in 2006 to take a part-time position as senior designer for The University of Texas at Austin, that I came across the text again. I found it buried in a box in the garage. I quickly emailed Bill and asked if he was still interested in my taking a swing at the illustration part of things, and to my luck he was.
Six months later, I finished illustrating and designing the book, and passed it to Bill who began searching for a publisher. We got many nibbles, and finally in 2010 we received the exciting news that Touchoo was interested in turning “Hello Week” into a Book App. It was ten years after we started our plan to work together.
What inspired the story and the look of its illustrations?
William: I like to use repetition in writing, which is something that kids also like to do. When they’re little, they get a hold of a word and they explore every facet of it. With “Hello Week,” I wanted to tell the story of a boy having fun with a word. Hello is the first word of his vocabulary, which is fitting, but of course his repetitive greetings drive his mother crazy.
Kim: My daughter was only one when I started to work on the book, her favorite books were the tiny ones. I noticed that most were square and wanted a small rectangle book. When I started sketches for the tiny space that allotted, I realized I had to zoom in on the objects and crop the people in order for the little ones to be clear about the new vocabulary.
How is designing an e-book/book app different from designing a conventional print book?
Kim: When I began to design the book, e-books barely existed, but I happened to envision the book as a small printed book almost exactly app size. To get the illustrations ready for iPad / iPhone / iPod Touch, I re-did every illustration and hand lettered the text. In its new electronic format the type needed to fit on each page with the illustration.
What are the educative qualities of “Hello Week?”
William: I think the way the story calls out familiar objects will help kids see and say what they encounter in the story and in the world around them. I think rhyming is a technique that helps young kids acquire nuance with language. Rhyming also helps them associate sounds with the written word, and that helps them later as readers and spellers.
Kim: The book is perfect for young ones, learning to speak and then again for kindergarten age kids, learning to read.
Were there any surprises in this collaboration?
Kim: Rejection doesn’t rattle Bill.
William: I was surprised by Kim’s initial sketches because they were so post-modern. The reader didn’t see the faces of the characters—Benny or his parents. I think that’s a really new treatment of characters in a children’s story, and it helps to focus on the objects that Benny says hello to.
What are some of your favorite children’s stories?
Kim: Growing up I had two books, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” If you came to my house I would beg you to read them to me. I love reading “Goodnight Moon” and all of the “Henry and Mudge” books to my girls.
William: I like all the Dr. Suess books. And all of our kids really like the Mercer Mayer little critter books.
About Kim and Bill:
Kim Edge: I spent my early childhood years drawing with chalk in the dark, riding my bike down sand hills, and doing gymnastics. I was born and raised in old mill town Rhode Island. I left at 18 to study art in NYC, first at NYU then Parsons. My paintings have shown in RI, Texas, and in NYC at The New Yorker Magazine Gallery. I’m a designer by day and have worked at The New Yorker Magazine, Travel and Leisure Magazine, Brown University, and UT Austin. I live in Austin with my husband Harold, two daughters, Annalee and Rell, my dog Boo, and Lo Lo the cat.
William Walsh: I’m the father of four children, ages three, six, ten, and twelve. My wife teaches first grade, and I work in communications at the Museum of Science, Boston. My short stories have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies. My novel Without Wax (Casperian Books) was published in 2008, and a book derived texts called Questionstruck (Keyhole Press) appeared in 2009. I recently edited a fiction anthology called RE:Telling (Ampersand Books), which features work from thirty writers re-working storylines from movies, television, literature, comic books, video and mythology.