Author and Illustrator Encourage Youth to Engage in Literature and Art

Author and Illustrator Encourage Youth to Engage in Literature and Art

Gabrielle Daley, Contributing Reporter

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

On Saturday, November 5th, 2016, children gathered around a multicolored carpet in the Youth Room at the West Springfield Public Library. To their surprise, they weren’t going to listen to the librarian tell a tale as she normally does, but an award-winning author. Jason Marchi read his book, The Growing Sweater, to the young audience with the hope that they may store the memory for a long while and the syllables that he had written would set a spark in their minds, like Victor Hugo. Meanwhile, the illustrator Ben Quesnel of the book displayed his artwork endeavoring for the kids’ imaginations to run wild.

Thanks to senior Vanessa Bonebo, who’s the cousin of Quesnel, the ignition of words and syllables was possible for she organized the event as a part of an internship she was doing at the library. She believed that the reading went well and the children enjoyed it.

After the reading, Marchi expressed his love and joy for sharing his stories with children.

“Reading to children is wonderful. They are very young, but there are little things that they will absorb. I noticed that a few of the kids were very attentive, some got distracted and I probably would have if I was their age; so you don’t know what seeds you’re planting and that’s the wonderful thing. Someone will remember something way into adulthood, and they’ll say, ‘Hey remember when that author came in and read that book about the big sweater?’”

Marchi’s interest in writing sparked in high school. He majored in English at Northeastern University, and after working in the publishing industry for almost 20 years, he began to self-publish his own works. He has written approximately a dozen books, including picture book The Legend of Hobbomock: The Sleeping Giant with illustrator Jesse Bonelli. Furthermore, Marchi gave advice to writers in the making when he expressed how words shouldn’t be contemplated, but spilled onto pages.

“If you are interested in writing, then tell the stores that are inside yourself and get then onto a page as soon as possible. Don’t try to edit yourself or question yourself. Just try to run with the emotion because it will flow and then you can always go back with your intellect later to clean it up. I know lots of new writers are intimidated and don’t want to start until they have a perfect sentence; that’s the biggest mistake you can make. Just start and run with it because nobody is going to judge you,” he said.

The author recalled how exciting and entertaining it is to let your ideas explode onto a page, but he also expressed how he finds it hard to take criticism from editors or experienced authors when you need to edit it. “As the writer,” he said “you think you’re creating this wonderful thing that everyone is going to want, but writing is mostly rewriting.” Marchi remarked that very few people have the talent to just write beautifully and that it’s worth it to put a lot of effort into a story, because once you have the end product, you forget all the work you did.

In addition to explaining how writers produce their work, Marchi explained the reason why he writes. “I think you hope that writing and illustrating is an offshoot, that you inspire people through the work but really I end up writing because I have to write. I think a writer is in you and wants to come out in some sort of storytelling. But you do hope that you reach an audience and that you not only teach, but inspire someone who wants to write.”

Writing can create a portal that leads to a new reality. However, visuals are a key factor in literature, for they add details, color and explain what the text is trying to convey. In his hometown East Windsor Connecticut, Quesnel was painting at the age of five. Quesnel was hired to illustrate his first book in high school after winning the prestigious Congressional Artwork Competition award, in which he represented the State of Connecticut. He received a degree in Art Education from Southern Connecticut State University and is currently working towards a masters degree at the School of Visual Art. While illustrating books, he is an art teacher in Greenwich Public School System. Quesnel has also painted the pictures in Sarah Walked to School and The Cookie Thief. Like Marchi, Quesnel gave advice for those interested in his profession by explaining the importance of inspiration:

“Be true to yourself. If art is what inspires you then make art and do whatever you can to do that. I think it’s important to stay motivated and stay excited about what you do and if there’s ever a point where you aren’t excited about doing it then take a break and find passion somewhere else. But definitely be inspired by what you do.”

To develop pictures, Quesnel has to decide what point of view he wants to paint from. The artist explained that the author and he will often sit down and discuss different layouts and images, usually from movies taken by acclaimed directors, that are inspiring. Afterward, Ben Quesnel will pull out a large canvas and begin a long 25 hours full of colors, creativity, and the sound of paint bushes. When his work is complete, his paintings are then shrunk to fit the dimensions of the book. Sometimes Quesnel will create an illustration and decide he isn’t content with it, so he’ll create something new and cut out the old.

Although, it’s such a extensive and tiring process to create each page, Quesnel wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. He work is well accomplished for Melissa Hensen, Vanessa Bonebo’s mother, remarked, “I have always found Ben’s illustrations to depict an alliset emotion and I find him warm and welcoming. This is the first time I have seen The Growing Sweater, I guess you could call me a silent fan of Ben.” She went on to tell the illustrator and author, “Very well done. It’s a very nice story.”

The read along at the library gave the children that attended something to remember. In addition, adults there exited the library with more knowledge than they had before about the process of illustrating and writing. Melissa Hensen added, “I love children’s books even though I’m an adult because there’s something about being able to take a trip back and being able to enjoy a children’s book; I was one of those kids who could never sit still for I was bored. I think reading is very important.”  Therefore, there is no shame in going to the children’s section to appreciate a picture book. All in all, don’t be afraid to do what inspires you and put a lot of effort into your creations because it will payoff in the end.