TGSG Note: When I first saw Jennifer’s work I was immediately smitten by its warmth and whimsy — TOTAL crush. For my regular readers, it should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of art and children’s literature, so you can imagine my thrill when Jennifer kindly agreed to be interviewed here at TGSG. BIG thanks to Jennifer for taking the time to chat with us. Personally, I would love to spend a day playing in a garden in one of her drawings, awash with candy-colored sunshine and flowers — happily chatting with a pig about the weather and whatnot. Dare to dream — you are NEVER too old. See ya outside! The Grass Stain Guru
1. What type of kid were you? And how did your childhood influence your profession as an illustrator and artist?
As a kid I was on the quiet side, and read all the time. I had a lot of creative outlets too- playing guitar, drawing, sewing, and writing in my diary. I was always comfortable inside my own head, which is helpful in this profession, since so much time is spent working on your own.
2. Your work often depicts nature and the outdoors. Did you spend a lot of time outside as a child? And how about now, as an adult?
Yes— I grew up on a cul-de-sac and there were always kids around to play with. We rode bikes, skateboards, played kickball, and flashlight tag- there was a lot of outside activity. As an adult I love to walk and jog (if nothing hurts that day!), and especially love to putter in my garden.
3. So many school systems have or are illuminating the arts in school. Do you think teaching arts in school is important. And if so, why?
They are definitely important. For one thing, school might be the only place a child has exposure to different forms of art. They reinforce academic learning in many ways, too. For example, music strengthens math skills as you count beats and rhythm. Art, music, and literature open children up to new cultures, which can lead to an appreciation of diversity, and perhaps more tolerance in the world. I’d say we could always use more of that.
4. As readers of TGSG know, I am a strong advocate for creativity. As an illustrator, you are very creative. Why do you think creativity is important in both childhood and adulthood?
Well, in one sense creativity is about solving problems. What kind of story am I writing? What color palette will work for conveying a certain emotion in a painting? Creative thinking is a skill that can be applied to all sorts of questions– whether you’re a scientist looking for a new vaccine, or a mechanic trying to figure out why an engine isn’t working, or a chef preparing a fancy dish– whatever field you like. It’s about looking for new possibilities. I also think approaching life creatively gives a person a huge sense of satisfaction. It’s the path, not the destination kind of thing, you know?
5. What advice do you have for parents for nurturing creativity in their children in today’s over-structured, fast-paced society?
Let kids be a little bored! Seriously, when my own kids were young I learned that they were naturally creative if I just gave them paper and crayons and let them be. I think when we start scheduling all of a child’s time we’re training them to need to be entertained. But leave them on their own for a while and they’ll come up with amazing ideas. They learn how to keep themselves happy. Simple is good, too. Have you ever noticed how kids are often more interested in big cardboard boxes than the newest fancy toy?
6. You are a children’s book illustrator. What were some of your favorite children’s books as a kid?
When I was very young my parents apparently read “Lady and the Tramp” to me upside down and backwards, because I couldn’t get enough of it. I don’t remember this! As a kid I read all over the place, and still do today. For a time I read every non-fiction horse book I could get my hands on, and then my mom introduced me to historical fiction. Reading Judy Blume was a rite-of-passage, also Roald Dahl; and I adored the Little House on the Prairie series.
7. Did you have a secret place as a child? If so, can you describe it?
It wasn’t really a secret place, but as kids we used to build forts in the backyard. It was a little corner of the world where we could let our imaginations run wild. My diaries were like a secret place, too. I’ve recently gone back and reread them, and it was an eye-opening experience to see what I was thinking about back then.
8. What is your opinion on tech-play and screen-time that is so prevalent in today’s childhood?
I wish there were less! Personally, I don’t get the appeal of video games, but they’re here to stay, so I think it’s important to help kids learn how to balance them in their lives. If your child is happy and doing well in school, then I’d say you’ve found a reasonable compromise. But the computer is also a wonderful tool for learning, so it’s good to emphasize that side of it as well.
9. You have one free afternoon all to yourself — what do you do for fun?
Fly to Paris! But I guess I’d need more than an afternoon… I’d curl up with a good book, or pull out a sketchbook and draw, or play around in the garden– many of the things I try to fit into my days anyway. Is that boring?
Guest Bio: Jennifer Thermes is a children’s book author and illustrator. Her second book, Sam Bennett’s New Shoes, was named a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book. She also creates colorful illustrated maps for magazines, publishers, and various other clients. Her clients include Henry Holt & Co., Carolrhoda Books, Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, Harvard Common Press, and Mondo Publishing. Jennifer lives in a very old farmhouse with her husband and children, three cats, one crazy Dalmatian dog, and countless mice. Learn more at Jennifer’s website.