In 2011, Zachary Pullen illustrated Rich Michelson’s Lipman Pike, a picture-book biography of one of baseball’s earliest professionals. The book became a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and a New York Times Notable Children’s Book of 2011. This week, Pullen chatted with Kidsbiographer about historical research and character development.
Kidsbiographer: Nineteenth-century Brooklyn leaps to life in your illustrations for Lipman Pike. What sort of research did you do to create this sense of place?
Zachary Pullen: Lipman Pike was a struggle with research. I had a great amount of help from the publisher and the team at Sleeping Bear Press. I sat at the computer for hours just looking up images from the era as well as costume, street life, and culture. From there, it was on to find suitable costumes and models.
Kidsbiographer: Both Rich Michelson’s narrative and your illustrations emphasize character. How did Michelson’s prose style, especially his dialogue, influence your visual approach to Pike’s life?
Zachary Pullen: Rich is a great writer and is able to tell a story so that when you close your eyes, images just rush to the surface. I did the best that I could to keep up.
As far as the dialogue and interaction goes… I love to illustrate the expression that depicts the mood that the author is trying to convey as well as lending my own side to the story.
Kidsbiographer: What was the most challenging aspect of illustrating a picture-book biography of Lipman Pike?
Zachary Pullen: I’d have to say that the challenge was in the time period. This was going back further than usual and there was no comfort zone to fall into. The challenge was also the fun.
Kidsbiographer: My favorite illustration in Lipman Pike is the final double-page spread. Pike has just hit a homerun, and you capture that joyful, incredulous split second just before he takes off for first base. Which part of Pike’s life did you most enjoy illustrating?
Zachary Pullen: First, thank you. My favorites were the baseball scenes as well. I liked the fact that the game was fairly solitary and played for the individual enjoyment of the game. It was nice to return to the root of the game and illustrate that solitary passion.
Kidsbiographer: What’s the most gratifying feedback you’ve received about Lipman Pike?
Zachary Pullen: The awards and attention that the book has gotten is great. The most gratifying feedback is signing a copy for a child that has already ripped the cover and read it over and over. There’s nothing better than that fan.
Kidsbiographer: Would you like to discuss any current or future projects?
Zachary Pullen: I have three more books in the pipeline: The Origin of Escargot, The Bambino and Me, and The Missing Bee.