AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
Florence and Wendell Minor believe that children's literature-especially when beautifully illustrated-encourages creativity in kids and heightens their awareness of the world that surrounds them.
As the featured speakers at the annual author's luncheon of the New London branch of the American Association of University Women, the married couple will elaborate on the importance of books that entertain, teach and inspire young children. The program will be held Oct. 20 at the Spa at Norwich Inn, presented with Mystic's Bank Square Books.
Wendell Minor has created more than 2,000 book jackets, received more than 300 professional awards, and is nationally known for illustrating 50-plus children's books, including collaborations with notable people such as best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. "Wendell Minor's America," a 25 year retrospective of his children's picture book art, is being published in 2013 by the Norman Rockwell Museum in conjunction with an exhibition of his artwork.
Florence Minor, a retired film editor for ABC News in New York, has found a second rewarding career in publishing, handling all the business aspects of their studio in Washington, Conn., as well as writing several award-winning picture books for young children illustrated by Wendell.
Wendell says he serendipitously got into book illustration as a young man who had just arrived in New York City looking for work as a graphic designer. He landed an apprenticeship with Paul Bacon, a well-known book and album cover designer of the time.
"He threw a manuscript at me and said, 'Do something with it,'" Wendell recalls. "The last thing in the world I thought I'd be was a book illustrator. I'm a lifelong recovering dyslexic and reading is not something that was ever easy for me. I thought visually as a kid because of my reading problem and made a subliminal connection with words and pictures as one and the same. I realized verbal and visual narrative tied in (well) for what I wanted to do in my career."
Wendell gives many school presentations and his own struggles with reading have made him particularly attuned to kids with similar challenges.
"I was born with a heart defect and couldn't go out for sports-I've had three major open heart surgeries," he says. "Drawing became my sport in which I could excel, and we all need a stage (on which) to perform and do our best. Out of adversity always comes something good."
The three categories of books Wendell illustrates are American history, biography and nature-the subjects he loved best as a kid. He works in oil, acrylic, watercolor and gauche.
"My medium of choice right now is a combination of watercolor and gauche," he says. "It's the most demanding medium but the most expressive-and very immediate."
Wendell and Florence's first collaboration, "Christmas Tree!" published in 2005, was a New York Times Bestseller. Their book, "If You Were a Penguin," was selected for Pennsylvania's "One Book, Every Young Child" early literacy program. "If You Were a Panda Bear," a follow-up book, will be published in 2013.
Florence says she's always been an avid reader and a writer-either journaling or poetry.
"The 'Christmas Tree!' book was the first book (Wendell and I) worked on together and we realized we had something going here. We're both interested in the natural world, we're both animal lovers," she notes.
Florence points out that like Wendell, her career also has taken turns that were unexpected, and she wants to encourage other women to leave themselves open to things they might not expect, which she plans to discuss at the AAUW luncheon.
"Film editing wasn't something I planned to go into. I was a sociology major," she says. "My work ethic from my parents was 'Do the best you can at anything you're doing.' I worked my way up from a production secretary, and with Wendell's encouragement, I decided to go freelance and become a freelance film editor. A lot of what I learned in film editing made its way into book editing."
Florence says that she thinks a lot of women are intimidated by not having a real direction from the get-go and notes that she was extremely shy as a young person.
"As shy as you are or as limited as you think you are, if you keep your eyes open to any possibilities, you can find things that really are you, without you having even known it before, and take those opportunities or possibilities and really run with them," she says. "I never thought I'd end up as a children's book author, but it just fit, it clicked-we really are capable of much more than we think we are."