Photographer Wing Young Huie Interviews Author John Coy

Today, John Coy and Wing Young Huie, the author and photographer team behind Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land, take over the blog again! Their Great Gift has received three starred reviews from Kirkus ReviewsSchool Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. In this post, Wing interviews John. To read John’s interview of Wing from last week, click here.

Wing: What was it like for you to work with a photographer rather than an illustrator?

John: This was the first time I’d ever worked directly with the artist. Normally that’s kept completely separate in picture books and I see the art at the end. For this book, we collaborated together each step of the way. It was a completely new process for me and your ideas and insights on the text made the book so much better. I had your photographs in mind when I was writing and that was really exciting because I knew this book was going to be different from anything I’d done.

Wing: What are the challenges of writing a story that will accompany photos of real people?

John: In the beginning, I focused on my family stories. I’d heard and read so much about what it was like to leave family and country behind and I wanted to get those strong emotions into spare and simple sentences. I knew how powerful your photographs are and from the beginning I wanted the text to be concise so readers would be drawn to the people pictured. As you made suggestions on text and I revised it, I felt the book was opening up to include more and more people.

Wing: How is this different from your other books: subject-wise and process-wise?

John: It’s a very different process. Usually I send a story to a publisher and if they say they want to publish it, they pick the illustrator. This is somebody I’ve never met who lives far away and we don’t talk or communicate while they create pictures. I was so excited to be included in all the meetings with Lerner editors and designers to discuss design, layout, colors, and covers because I’ve never been part of that.

A spread from Their Great Gift

Wing: Where do your ideas for a book start?

John: They usually start with something personal, something I’ve been thinking about for a long time that won’t let go. In writing about it and rewriting and revising it and talking with others, I begin to feel and understand it differently.

Wing: How much do the books differ from the original idea?

John: Normally, the book looks totally different because I don’t know what the illustrator will create. It often looks better than I imagined, but it’s always totally different. With Their Great Gift, however, I always imagined it looking like a Wing Young Huie book. I wasn’t exactly sure what that would be, but now that we have finished books, I feel it looks just like that, better even than I could have imagined.

Wing: What’s your favorite part of making a book?

Gilberto and Their Great Gift
in the early stages of printing

John: Because it takes so long to make a book, I’ve learned how important it is to appreciate and celebrate each step of the process as we get closer to having a book. If I had to pick one part, though, I’d choose the day that the text is accepted and I hear we’re going to make a book. So much is possible at that point. We know we’ll have a book, but we don’t know what it will look like. And the day the box of finished books arrive at my house is pretty great, too.

Wing: What was it like for you to see the actual books being made? [John and Wing visited our bindery to see the book being bound a few months ago!]

John: Amazing. That is something I’ve always wanted to do because students often ask detailed questions about the process. To be there with you to see pages rolling down the line and covers being attached and to know they were all Their Great Gift was truly incredible.

Wing: What was it like to be handed a copy off the line?

John: One of the coolest things ever.

Wing: Would you like to make another book together?

John: Absolutely!

Pick up Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land at your local bookstore or library today!