Happy Book Birthday to Jeanne Walker Harvey’s new #nonfiction PB,
DRESSING UP THE STARS
The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head
Illus. Diana Toledano / Beach Lane
I am always in awe of Jeanne’s picture book bios
and this one is no exception!
“Together, the art and storytelling capture Head’s belief in the transformative magic of costumes, which will certainly strike a chord with dress-up enthusiasts.”
How did Edith Head, a shy miner’s daughter who didn’t know how to sew or draw, grow up to be one of the most legendary costume designers in Hollywood?
Meanwhile, we have 10 questions for
Jeanne Walker Harvey
+ and possibly a few Qs for young readers as well…
Q 1. Welcome, Jeanne–I read that you grew up in Southern CA and you and your mom would watch the Oscars together. Did you ever dress up as if you were attending. (Photo please!)
Jeanne Walker Harvey: First of all, many thanks Erin for inviting me yet again on your wonderful blog to celebrate the book birthday of DRESSING UP THE STARS: The Story of Costume Designer Edith Head.
I wish I had such photos, but my mom and I were too fascinated by all the fashion and glamour on the TV to think of dressing up too. However, I often frequented vintage stores with my mom, and I’d try on the most glamorous and over the top dresses we could find — just for the fun of it.
Q 2. If you could invite Edith Head to dinner, what would you ask her?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: What a fun question! Well, I hope you would come along too, Erin, as you always ask such interesting questions in all your interviews.
Oh, there are so many things I’d like to ask Edith Head. I’d be interested to hear about what steps she took before she designed a costume for a particular movie.
There was so much more to do besides reading the script! I know she did a lot of historical research for authenticity of costumes for certain time periods. I wonder how much she talked with the director, screenwriter and actors about the motivation of the characters?
I’d also love to know some inside behind the scenes stories about the famous actors she worked with at the movie studios. Edith Head sometimes had to convince actors to wear less than attractive clothing because this fit the role of the character. And that’s when she needed to be a good advocate of the story and explain why it was necessary. I would love to hear her talk about these important connections between movie costumes and the story of the film.
ED : I hereby RSVP yes to this dinner party. Thanks, Jeanne!
#Teachers–Ask your students what they think Edith Head would say in answer to Jeanne’s questions.
Speaking of which, check out this FREE DOWNLOAD of activities to use with DRESSING UP THE STARS.
Q. 3. One of the themes of DRESSING UP THE STARS is persistence and going forward despite the NOs. We get a lot of rejections in our #kidlit lives as well. Was there ever a time as a children’s author that you felt discouraged by the NOs? How did you keep going?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: Indeed yes! I’ve gathered a slew of rejections over the years, and of course that’s discouraging (especially when a rejection is first read when the hopes were high). But I’ve actually gotten much better about it because I’ve learned so much from these notes from the editors who kindly took the time to explain what wasn’t working with a manuscript.
And I’ve very much taken to heart what our amazing agent, Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency, so eloquently reminds us authors and illustrators – – we just need to be patient and believe there’s a perfect home for our work. And Deborah is absolutely a star at finding such homes for our work.
PB Bios by Jeanne Walker Harvey: ABLAZE WITH COLOR (Illus. Loveis Wise / Harper Collins); MAYA LIN (Illus. Dow Phumiruk / Henry Holt & Co.; MY HANDS SING THE BLUES (Illus. Elizabeth Zunon / Two Lions).
Q 4. What are some tips for authors hoping to write engaging, inspiring nonfiction like DRESSING UP THE STARS, or ABLAZE WITH COLOR, MAYA LIN, and MY HANDS SING THE BLUES?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: Thank you for that compliment, Erin. I always hope that children will be inspired and engaged by these biographies. It’s amazing how many varied ways nonfiction is being written and illustrated for children these days. So I think the most important first step for authors is to be sure they are writing about topics that fascinate them. If the authors are fascinated, they will convey that fascination to children. And then, of course, read and study as many recently published books as they can find in that genre and topic.
LOVE THIS TIP (I do it too!)
JWH: I often type up picture book biography manuscripts that I particularly love to glean a sense of the timing of page turns, wording, and pacing.
Q 5. Do you have a tried and true method of research / finding original sources, or has this part of the process differed with each nonfiction biography you’ve written?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: I wish I had a tried and true method of research and finding original sources, but it’s definitely varied from book to book. I tell children during school visits that I view myself like a treasure hunter because I try to dig up everything I can find about a person.
Be a Treasure Hunter
JWH: To me, great tidbits of research are like jewels that will help me find the way to make the story sparkle.
Q 6. It was fascinating reading your recent interview about Edith Head’s work with Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren for “The Birds.” What other surprising discoveries did you make about Edith Head through your research?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: I was surprised to learn how many actors truly admired her, not just as a costume designer but as a person. She not only designed incredible costumes, but also advocated and supported upcoming struggling actors in an industry that could be pretty ruthless.
Meet the Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Q 7. I see that there is a store front in one of the spreads of the book that says “Jeanne RADIO.” What other surprises did illustrator Diana Toledano bring to the project?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: Yes, I thought that was such a wonderful surprise to spot “Jeanne RADIO” in the Los Angeles street scene. Truly, everything about the talented Diana Toledano’s illustrations for DRESSING UP THE STARS delights me.
I was surprised how creatively and skillfully she was able to capture not only the young Edith Head, but also the struggling and then successful fashion designer Edith Head. And she uses such interesting patterns on everything throughout the book which perfectly reflects Edith’s connection to fabrics in her designs. Even the rooftops in Searchlight Nevada, the town near to where she grew up, and the awnings of buildings in the Los Angeles street scene have playful colorful patterns.
Dreams Come True!
Q 8. Now that you’ve written four nonfiction biographies, who would you say is most like you—either as an adult or a child: Edith Head / DRESSING UP THE STARS, Alma Thomas / ABLAZE, MAYA LIN, or Romare Bearden / MY HANDS SING THE BLUES? Please explain.
Jeanne Walker Harvey: What an intriguing question, Erin! I’ve truly been fascinated and inspired by all four of those creative people. But I think I would say I identify most with Edith Head as a child.
JWH: I too spent a lot of time by myself and often found company in my imagination. I too hosted tea parties for my Collie dog named Bonnie, cat named Cola, and a myriad of stuffed animals who were of course also all named. But instead of dressing up the animals, I wrote stories about them. And instead of a cherished bag of fabric scraps like Edith Head, I had treasured pens and notebooks. And every week I carried home stacks of books from the library and wished my name would someday be on a cover of a book. Dreams do come true, just like Edith’s did!
Q 9. What other projects are you working on? Anything you can share?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: I’m always working on many projects at once. I primarily focus on biographies of creative people, It seems to serve me well to work on these manuscripts, put them away, and then return to them with fresh eyes. Reduce ((the mantra of picture book authors), revise, reduce, revise. And I’m very excited that I have another picture book biography about a creative person, a female artist, in the works. I can’t wait until it can be announced. Stay tuned!
Q 10. Is there a question you wish I’d asked?
Jeanne Walker Harvey: I’d love to share my dedication in DRESSING UP THE STARS.
“In loving memory of my sister,
who delighted in art, design, and style.”
JWH: She will always be a sparkling star shining in my heart.
Thanks for joining the blog today, Jeanne.
JWH: Thanks ever so much, Erin, for another wonderful interview. It’s always truly such a pleasure to answer your insightful and thoughtful questions.
I hope your readers enjoy learning a bit more about the backstory of our book, DRESSING UP THE STARS – The Story of Costume Designer Edith Head, published by the wonderful Beach Lane Books/ Simon & Schuster and edited by the amazing Andrea Welch. As you know, it takes a team to publish a book, and I feel so fortunate to be part of this team!
To learn more about Jeanne Walker Harvey and her books,
here’s an earlier BOOK BIRTHDAY interivew about her book, ABLAZE WITH COLOR.
You can also visit her website: jeanneharvey.com
and follow her on Twitter: @JeanneWHarvey