Behind the Book
I’ve been working with Allyn Johnston, the editor of All the World, for lots of years. We have many sly ways of inching toward our next project together, most of them subtle and tricky and noncommittal in order to gauge the other’s level of interest without embarrassing ourselves with too much enthusiasm. So when Allyn called me on the phone one late afternoon in 2007 and said, “Oh my God! I just got something that you have to illustrate!” I took notice. “And you need to do it right away!” she shouted. Whoa.
What Allyn had in front of her was Liz Garton Scanlon’s text to All the World. What I had on my drawing table was another project that, after about three years, I’d finally unlocked. Not being in any mood to change course midstream, I reluctantly told Allyn she could send this All the World thing over. But I really hoped I wouldn’t like it.
Then, obviously, I loved it.
Illustrating a book titled All the World was a daunting proposition. I mean, it’s supposed to be about all the world. I was totally overwhelmed. Then I considered the times when I’ve felt the most connected to the world at large, and remembered that none of us ever inhabit all the world but merely our own small place in it. So I focused on one of the places I love the most—the central coast of California—and set the book there.
Many of the illustrations in All the World are inspired by grace notes in my life. The grandfather under the oak tree is an homage to my own immigrant grandfather, who had enough patience and faith in the future to grow oaks from acorns—trees he knew he would never live to see taller than himself. The little tree in front of the cafe is a mulberry tree he planted seventy years ago to remind him of his childhood in Lebanon. After he died, we carefully transplanted the tree to my parent’s house, and its berries have sweetened many summers and stained eight great-grandchildren’s clothes. The cafe itself was inspired by my hike to the Phantom Ranch cantina, which sits at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I drew my zippy orange 2007 Honda Fit, and my faithful dog, Rocket, in its front seat, pulling out of the farmer’s market. The tulips, the Mediterranean architecture, the pink house, the purple-and-yellow sunset, the beach ball—all of it means stuff to me. I hope that readers will find many things in All the World that mean stuff to them, too.
I love Liz’s text because it celebrates the small things, the big things, children, and grown-ups in equal measure. And I love how it is all mixed up and jumbled together and interconnected and personal and universal. No wonder Allyn was so insistent that I drop everything to do this book.
According to my hard drive, All the World began in 2005 as a verse or two of unrealized rhyme. At the time, I was trying to sell my next book, and this was one of many unfinished pieces—each one unlike the others except that they all weren’t quite right.
In August 2007, I flew to California for a writing conference. I arrived with sort of nebulous high hopes—too shy to chat folks up at the mixers but pretty sure it had been a good idea to come, in part because I’d lucked into some time with editor Allyn Johnston.
Allyn had read a number of my manuscripts by then and had a thing or two to say about them. She thought my strengths included an eye for observation and an ear for rhyme. She thought I should focus on finding the emotional resonance in my work. She thought I ought to trust myself.
I guess I thought so too, because the last night of the conference, while other folks mingled poolside, I holed up in my room with All the World. A couple of weeks later, at home, I was still holed up, uninterruptible, utterly immersed in doing what I loved.
On August 29, I sent a draft to Allyn, and she answered with, “Yes. Yes, yes, yes.” Marla Frazee must’ve said something similar when Allyn sent it to her, because suddenly we were in the midst of the most exhilarating and collaborative revision process on the planet. I’ve got 55 e-mails from that time. And there were phone calls, too. And text messages. And more e-mails. All for a manuscript of not quite 200 words. We were all doing what we loved.
The connective tissue that makes up All the World is the stuff that is meaningful to me—on a personal and global level. Stones and sky and soup and shadows stretching way out in late afternoon light...it’s comforting to think that the path to peace and beauty in a messy and complicated world might really be this simple. And more comforting still to think that if we all do what comes naturally, on our own and together, the disparate pieces of our lives might fall into place and make sense, once and for all.