Lee Harper is a picture book author and illustrator from Doylestown, Pennsylvania best known for his whimsical illustrations for the best-selling Turkey Trouble series and just so happens to be the husband of one of my favorite traveling companions, his wife, Krista. In fact, Lee was present for one of our now iconic experiences abroad, and dare I hope that some of those adventures may have sparked a bit of the creative juice behind his very clever and incredibly endearing children’s books. Lee’s newest work published in June 2018 is Ready or Not, Woolbur Goes To School, the long awaited sequel to the award-winning Woolbur. As if that wasn’t enough, Turkey’s Eggcellent Easter, the fourth book of the Turkey Trouble series is coming out in January of 2019. In addition to writing and illustrating picture books, Lee leads interactive presentations at schools. To learn more, please visit LeeHarperart.com.
About Lee’s latest book, Ready Or Not, Woolbur Goes To School, written by Leslie Helakoski. Here’s a look at what’s inside:
The free-spirited, fluffy, one-of-a-kind sheep, Woolbur, is on his way to school, and he’s MORE than ready … But Maa and Paa aren’t so sure. What if Woolbur isn’t exactly ready for school? He’s different. He’s unusual. And his new hairdo is kooky!
At school, Woolbur loves trying new things like drawing outside of the lines and eating grass. (No wonder his parents were worried!)
The rest of his classmates are nervous about their first day and aren’t excited about trying anything new. Will Woolbur’s excitement help show his friends that doing something different, or unusual, or kooky is the best way to get ready for school?
This charming and spunky follow-up to the beloved Woolbur is the perfect gift for children who march to the beat of their own drum or anyone who needs a little encouragement on their first day of school.
Praise for Woolbur:
“Woolbur is an excellent role model of self-confidence and positivity.”– Kirkus Reviews
“The fiercely independent sheep introduced in Woolbur starts school in this infectious follow-up.”– Publishers Weekly
“Woolbur tackles each new experience with aplomb.”– Publishers Weekly
“In a long list of appealing back-to-school books, this one really makes the grade.”– School Library Journal
So I wanted to give Lee a chance to tell us a bit about the man who started off as a painter, but has “enjoyed playing with words ever since [he] figured out you could make words with lines on a piece of paper and then turn those words into poems and stories.” Let’s see what the master illustrator who prefers early morning illustration to burning the midnight oil has to say for himself, shall we?
I never had any formal writing training. My education was in painting but I always gravitated toward narrative painting. My favorite genre of book to write is the humorous picture book. My favorite genres of books to read are memoirs, satire, history, science, and comedy and humor. I can’t say I have one favorite book but I’m reading Philip Ball’s Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour for the third time so I’d have to put that high on the list. I also enjoy anything written by David Sedaris.
From where do your ideas come?
My best ideas usually come when I’m distracted in some way. My last good book idea came to me while I was on hold with Verizon.
Okay, that’s hilarious cause most people would say something like, ‘oh, when I’m walking, or when I’m in the shower.’ I’m getting a David Sedaris or maybe Stephen Wright vibe from you right now, you know, like wry (and not the bread kind cause that would be rye) meets deadpan. Anyway, what’s your favorite writing prompt?
This question made me realize I need to get some good writing prompts.
Have you had any brushes with writing greatness, e.g., a writer (or actor, etc.) anyone you would be flustered to meet and suddenly they’re standing lin line in front of you? What do you do? Speak? Smile? Wait to be spoken to or invade their personal space?
My most interesting brush with greatness is one that actually led to a collaboration I’ve been working on recently.
In 2012 while at the New Jersey School Librarians Conference I almost met Suzzy Roche of The Roches fame. We were both participating in ‘Author’s Ally’ promoting our new books. I was so star-struck I didn’t have the nerve to introduce myself to her, but afterwards I sent her a friend request on Facebook and she accepted.
That was the extent of this brush with greatness until a few months later when I was working on my book Coyote. Coyote is an allegorical story about loss inspired by an encounter with a Coyote on the day my brother passed away. At around the same time I was working on Coyote, Suzzy Roche happened to be creating music that was influenced by the death of a friend. Moved by the paintings from Coyote I was posting on Facebook, she asked if I could do the cover art for her next CD: Fairytale and Myth.
We worked together to create the cover and the next time I was in New York we met for coffee. During that meeting we tossed around the idea of doing a picture book together. The idea was not very well-formed, but we both agreed that her words and my pictures were a good fit and we would go wherever the creative spirit took us. Brainstorm was the working title. Or Wonder. We weren’t sure. We were making it up as we went along. She wrote some words and I made paintings inspired by those words. We ended up with a sketchbook-full of pictures and words without any real story. Or maybe the story was there and we just hadn’t found it yet. Either way, after a while we both got busy with other projects and or collaboration went dormant. The sketchbook went onto a shelf in my studio with all my other sketchbooks. Then when I moved to my new farm last summer all my sketchbooks were packed into cardboard boxes.
A few moths ago while unpacking I came across that sketchbook full of paintings based on the words Suzzy Roche wrote. Looking at those sketchbooks with a fresh eye made me see clearly that something very inspired and creative was happening and that it would be a shame if the ultimate fate of those paintings was for them to rot away in a dusty old loft in my barn. So I sent the sketchbook to Suzzy. A few days after she received the sketchbook she wrote something brilliant that pulled it all together as a coherent yet still wildly creative picture book.
Brainstorm is now in the hands of my literary agent. I don’t know what will happen from here but I’m hoping this isn’t the end of this story about my brush with greatness.
That’s a fantastic story! And given what you just related about the passing of your brother, I gather that you would agree that writing is a form of therapy?
Oh my god, yes. I always need to be working on a book to keep my sanity, particularly when times are difficult. Writing and illustrating Coyote was definitely a form of therapy for me. Immersing myself in the creative process helped me work through the grief of losing my brother.
What has been your greatest writing lesson?
I think I need to publish a few more of the stories I’ve written before I can start dishing out writing lessons, but I can say I’ve gotten better at paring down my stories and focusing on the age group I’m writing for.
How about greatest life lesson?
This life lesson I’d like to share with my younger self: If you have a ‘Question Authority’ bumper sticker on the back of your car, make sure to keep your registration up to date.
You really are channeling Stephen Wright. Have you reduced your life lessons to writing?
No, not yet.
Do you work outside of writing, i.e., do you have a day job other than writing?
I supplement my writing/illustrating income with school visits. It’s a perfect complement and has become a part of my job that I really love.
That sounds like big fun. I always loved visiting my kids’ schools because kids have tons of energy and I get a real kick out of being around them. Is that where you get your inspiration?
My children, pets, family members, nature, and the many children I meet at schools have all inspired my stories and pictures.
Well, let’s hope the fun continues. Thanks for stopping by and giving us a glimpse into your creative process, Lee. And best of luck with Woolbur and your other projects.
Want to reach out to Lee and let him know what you think about Woolbur or any of his other works? Here are the deets:
Facebook: Lee Harper@leeharper44
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002LQPZ3S