Three siblings spend a day at the beach in 'A Day For Sandcastles' Three siblings spend a summer day at the beach building sandcastles and watching them get demolished in a wordless picture book written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Qin Leng.

A kids' story unfolds without words in 'A Day For Sandcastles'

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"A Day For Sandcastles" is a new children's book by JonArno Lawson just in time for summer. It's about a sunny day playing at the beach.

JONARNO LAWSON: It's very autobiographical. When I was with my family 10 years ago in Chincoteague, Va., my kids were playing at the beach, and they were building this sandcastle right on the edge of the waves. And I kept trying to get them to come back because I thought it was a terrible idea. I sort of picture them building a beautiful sandcastle back closer to the dunes, but they found it exciting to build it right where the waves were hitting. And then I understood the excitement for them was to build under threat and to keep rebuilding. And so then it seemed so symbolic somehow of something quite wonderful or how life works more than just building your perfect sandcastle. And then it seemed like it would work beautifully without words.

RASCOE: "A Day For Sandcastles" is entirely visual. It's the second wordless picture book JonArno Lawson has worked on with Qin Leng. Their first was last year's "Over The Shop." Lawson and Leng talk about how they worked together for our children's book series, Picture This.

QIN LENG: "A Day For Sandcastles" to me, it's a celebration of childhood and the simple joys of life. And personally, this is the sort of thing I like to capture. I like to draw people. I like to draw them in the day-to-day mundane moments but moments that all of us can relate to. But I was surprised with how much visual concept JonArno actually had in his manuscript, in his description of the theme, of the story.

LAWSON: I just wrote down what I pictured. I guess it would almost be like a movie script. Like, this is what it will look like in my mind. And so the story is there, but there are no words pinning anything down.

LENG: There was a breakdown of the things that would happen to the sandcastles, you know, various stages of construction, deconstruction, destruction, a toddler walking through it, the wind and the waves, a hat landing on the sandcastle. So these are all part of the manuscript.

LAWSON: But then Qin had the freedom to interpret that. You know, it's a real collaboration that way, because how it then appears is completely Qin.

LENG: I - personally, I find it's, like, the icing on the cake for an illustrator to work on a wordless picture book because there is so much freedom. And what I love to do when I illustrate a picture book is to add side stories to the main storyline. Because I always think about the reader and the longevity of the book, and I want them to be able to discover something new every time they revisit the book. So I actually squeezed in some of the characters of "Over The Shop," and there's many other things that I enjoy adding in.

That year I worked on "A Day for Sandcastles," I had actually made a trip to Cape Cod. So there's a lot of reference from my own vacation, summer vacation with my family. And I actually put us into one panel of the book. As the wind is, like, picking up, this family's losing their sun umbrella. And that's essentially me, my son, my husband, my sister and her fiancee. And as much as I was saying that working on the wordless picture book gives me a lot of freedom as an illustrator, it's the same thing for the audience. They get to have that freedom as well, to read it and interpret it the way they see it.

LAWSON: Well, I haven't for a few years, but I usually do a lot of presentations. And the first time I went out with a wordless book, I had no idea what I was going to do. But what I found is that if you go to kids and show them a book like this, they'll tell you the story. It's actually much easier as a presenter because they have so many opinions, and they notice all these little details like what Qin was talking about. And they have their own memories that they'll connect. So one of the really fun things, which I didn't anticipate at all with wordless books, is how much more interactive it is. They'll have, you know, fierce disagreements (laughter) in classrooms. It's good. It's like a conversation then about what is it you're seeing?

LENG: Part of my childhood, I spent it in France, so I think I have a lot of inspiration coming from European (speaking French) comic books. So I tend to draw very, very small. So it's - I guess I would say it's refined and very detailed. This particular book, I use a fountain pen with the finest nib I could find. So the lines are super tiny. And what I loved about "A Day For Sandcastles" is and the challenges of it is that the whole book takes place on the beach. It's the same location, nothing really changes. So it was about how to make the compositions interesting, having some wide angles or down shots or close ups and low angles. So it feels very much like a graphic novel.

And the lighting is the biggest thing in this book because the time of day changes throughout the book. So I think this is a part that I enjoy the most in painting because you're not just left with a book full of pages of blue sky and blue water and yellow sand. You could see, you could feel the heat of the sun at lunchtime. And then you can also feel - like, see the sunset. There's a softness, like, at the end of the book, I think, where it feels like the book is falling asleep when we're done with it.

LAWSON: Yeah, the final pages are some of my favorites when it gets dark. It captures that feeling like at the end of a day at the beach, when you feel completely baked and it's like you can feel the air cooling off. But somehow Qin managed to capture that just in a few pictures at the end.

LENG: Yeah, there's a bit of melancholy at the end of the book, I think, when the day is over and they have to go away.

LAWSON: It's the funny thing about memories, too. Because if you've had a sad experience, you remember it sadly. But if you've had a happy experience, it's also kind of sad (laughter).

LENG: That it's over.

LAWSON: That it's over, yeah.

LENG: But then I think that's vacation. That's summer vacation right there (laughter).

RASCOE: That was author JonArno Lawson and illustrator Qin Leng talking about their new picture book, "A Day For Sandcastles," as part of our children's book series, Picture This, which is produced by Samantha Balaban.


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