Friday, October 3, 2008

Jim Hoover: Art Director at Viking Books Children's Book Publishing

Several years ago (2000 actually) I met Jim when I was on my way to my friend Sean's house. Unbeknownst to me, Jim had moved in with Sean only days before. I approached the two boys, said hello to Sean and introduced myself to Jim. Neither of them said a word to me, they were just sadly standing there. Sean finally said the apartment had burned down within the last hour. I offered Sean and his girlfriend and his unfortunate new roommate digs for the night and even helped dig a hole in a park to bury their cat who perished in the fire. It was truly one of the worst days ever, but Jim became one of my best friends. Since 2000, he has always wanted to work for Viking and now he does just that! Even though, he and his fiance moved to Brooklyn, we stay in touch. He was more than willing to share his job experiences at one of the finest children's book publishing companies in the world...and check out the above picture of him in the midst of his work, so zen.

What is your occupation? I know but just tell me again.

I am an art director at Viking books.

And exactly how long have you worked there Jim?

I've been here four, no wait, five years, before that I was at Puffin for three...

What are some precious titles I as a future mommy and current teacher should be aware of that your company provides?

From Shreik to Al Gore's An Inconvenient an award winning John Lennon Biography and countless other books in between...Jon Scieszka...

Who's that?

Wrote "Stinky Cheese Man" Duh! And he recently became the first children's book ambassador! And we just did a cover with Gary Taxali, another great children's book illustrator, and Aimee Mann's album cover...

So Cool Jim! I want to work for Viking! What current project they got you working on?

An Apollo 12 book with Astronaut Alan Bean (see picture of book above), the fourth man to walk on the moon.

Did you ever meet him?

No, lives in Texas, we spoke on the phone a few times (bragging a little bit), he lives in Houston, really nice guy.

Um, I see you met Amy Sedacas, did that have to do with your job?

No, we met at a Barnes and Noble book signing, I just love her!

I do too, I want to buy her new book-she's great. Al Gore?

Didn't get to meet him either, he did email me once though (laughing).

Really? Where is it? Did you frame that? I would have framed that!

Ah, no..I think I still have the link somewhere though, he just wrote something quick like, "looks good to me," that was about my only interaction with the former vice president.

Email him hello for me! (being very serious) When you helped create the book, "In the Middle" what was it like rehashing those middle school years?Jim:(Sighing)

Awful, just awful...terribly painful...

(Laughing) Really? Why?

Well back then...and everyone included in the book fits within the same ball park...had similar experiences, we were so mean to each other! I mean vicious!

You were mean in middle school?

Yeah, I think everyone was! That's just the way it went...if you go back and think about it...

No thanks. you treated an easy target, picking on those less than you, just to make yourself feel better about yourself, I did it, sorry to report.

I really loved not only the words you wrote in this book but I absolutely loved all your amazing illustrations, what other books have you illustrated for?

I hire illustrators and work closely with them to finalize/design covers.

But not illustrate?

When I was young I thought being the illustrator was the be-all-end-all, not so much anymore. Now, I like the collaboration, working with others to create it (the hundreds of covers). I do art for me, the publication of my illustrations lost its luster. I've helped in the publication of so many books, it doesn't matter so much any more.

Favorite author?

Favorite author or Favorite artist?


Umm, who is my favorite artist(long pause, that's like asking who is my favorite author) Peter Sis, Lane Smith...


They are both...see their work and my jaw drops illustrators. I've actually worked with Peter Sis, he's my hero!

Growing up, did you have a favorite children's book as a child, that question sounds weird, do you know what I mean though?

Yea, so many, so so many..."The Story of Ferdiand" which was actually published by Viking also in the 1930s and knocked "Gone with the Wind" off the top selling book list!

Describe the plot a little bit, I'm unfamiliar.

Seriously? It's one of the most famous books! About a very peaceful bull who just wants to lay in the shade...

Is there some kind of political message?

(laughing) No, the lesson is more about what happens, the Maditators want to fight the fiercest bull and one day they see him react violently after getting a bee sting and get him into the ring where he just smells flowers thrown into the ring but doesn't fight, it's just not him...

So the moral of the story?

You may think a big bull like him should be tough, but he's quite the opposite, never judge...sometimes bulls just want to lay about beneath a Cork tree (sounding like he's teaching a preschool class the meaning of the book).

Cork tree, did the story take place in Ireland or something?

No, Spain actually.

What's one of your favorite covers you assisted with?

An Inconvenient Truth.

An Inconvenient Truth? Isn't that an adult book?

We did the children's version of it...


Oh, we also did a John Lennon Biography, children's version. A non-fiction, biography but also we tried to paint an actual portrayal of his essence, of the person, the factual stuff is all correct but we tried to really capture who John was.

Sounds like he was your favorite Beatle?

He was. Different reasons, I like the transformation from muddy rascal to sincere leader of peace, really interesting to see...he was by far the more interesting Beatle to me...he could be a real jokester even when he met Yoko, he maintained that rascal side to him, when you're doing a biography book like that, where a character has character flaws or contradicts themselves...this makes good literature.

I agree, I love dynamic characters!

I like Paul the least...

Many fans from the 60s would shoot you for that!

They're wrong. Ringo was John's favorite, always pop culture, neighborhood kid, George was thoughtful...

Did you get any assistance from them when you and your company created this book?

Paul was no help at all whereas Yoko was surprisingly helpful and gracious. Ironically, we did Paul's book (Paul created his own children's book around the same time) and even though there was a lot of promotion, it tanked.

When you're not creating wonderful children's books, probably the most important thing one could do for today's youth when you think about it, what else do you do?

As far as art is concerned, I still do a lot of figure drawing, there's places everywhere in the city. They even got places now in the city where they have a bar, so when you get tired or need a break, you can relax and have a drink...and chill out.

Do you consider it an intimate experience?

Absolutely, it is in that you're capturing someones mannerisms, their physicality, usually when I draw, I let my mind wander, you almost channel between the eye and the's very zen.

Tell me more about Viking.

It just celebrated its 75Th year anniversary, big party, lots of good wine, everyone hung out and had a nice evening.

You seem so happy Jim!

Viking has really maintained itself, has more awards for its illustrators and literary authors then other imprints can boast about, has an incredible back list (from years ago that still stay in print).

That's very amazing for books these days!

Like movies that teeter off after a few weeks, so like books. Most books do well the first few
weeks, then within a few years, they're out of print, not so with Viking.

Keep reprinting! Even in this recession, things with the stock market, everything is crumbling...

It stays steady every year and reprints books like "The Outsiders" by S.E Hinton, "Corduroy Books", "Madeline,"" Make Way for Ducklings,"" The Story of Ping," "Whistle for Willy"...all the greats.

Do you get a great satisfaction knowing your skill/trade/job occupation
whatever is transforming the minds of our youth in a positive way?

First, I love it when good children's books get good reviews, and it really does my heart well to see a kid enjoying a book we at Viking created. My best friend's kid (I gave him one of our books, "Red Truck") memorized a book I helped art direct, to see each stage, each page, and then to see how the child reacts and you see how this book is going to be a book, it's great, hey, my boss is on the other line, chat soon?

Okay, bye Jim! I know where to buy books for my young family members now, keep the recommendations coming!


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