Celebrated illustrator Liza Woodruff authors her first children’s book

By Geeda Searfoorce | The Charlotte News

A crowd of children gathered at The Charlotte Library on Aug. 30 to get their first look at Liza Woodruff’s newest book, Emerson Barks. The renowned illustrator of 23 works can finally add the title “author” to her curriculum vitae, thus realizing one of her long-time goals. “I love bringing other people’s words to life on the page,” she said, “but I’ve always wanted to write my own stories to illustrate, too.”

This new story—about a dog whose enthusiastic vocal outbursts exasperate his people and unsettle the neighbor’s cat—takes a page out of Woodruff’s own life. “One night when my dog Emerson was barking,” she told the children at the library, “I thought, ‘What would happen if a dog held in his bark? Would he blow up like a balloon?’” The idea for her new publication was thus born.

Woodruff has a natural rapport with children, as evidenced by the rapt attention of the crowd. “You know that feeling,” she asked them, “when you want to talk to your parents and they ask you to wait? I thought maybe having to hold in his bark made Emerson feel like that.”

Her love of illustration was ignited in high school, when Woodruff was able to take a college course at the Rhode Island School of Design while still in high school. “I became really conscious of and grateful for the role of supportive mentors in an artist’s life,” she said.

Her love of children’s books began early on too, after she earned her B.A. in art and French and her B.F.A. in illustration at the Art Institute of Boston. She hit the ground running after school, and her many publications include Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream (Scholastic, 1998), written by Cindy Neuschwander; Lindy Blues: The Missing Silver Dollar (Marshall Cavendish, 2006), written by Dorian Cirrone; and Ten on the Sled (Sterling Children’s Books, 2010), written by Kim Norman.

Woodruff invited the energetic crowd at the library to read along with her as Emerson’s stifled barks are unleashed and create an unexpected, positive change for his neighbor’s cat, Kissy. After the reading, Woodruff led the children in making a craft mask of Emerson using paper plates and construction paper. She also took art direction from the eager crowd and drew “our very own Kissy!”

By engaging the children in the drawing of an illustration Woodruff sparked their imaginations and inspired them to create without self-criticism. When one girl said, “I do not know how to draw at all,” Woodruff was quick with encouragement. “I didn’t start out drawing well,” she said. “I had to practice. If you wanted to, you could practice and keep having fun with it.” To emphasize her point, she picked up a marker and faced the blank poster board. “Just start with a squiggle,” she said. With Woodruff’s hand at play, that squiggle became a fully realized drawing of a cat.

Woodruff is treating area children and families to a spate of appearances to celebrate the publication of Emerson Barks. A complete list can be found at her website, lizawoodruff.com. And through her work, she will no doubt continue to offer her authentic brand of encouragement to young people who love stories. As she told the crowd gathered at the library, “This story helps us ask the question, ‘What happens to a dog that has to hold too many barks inside?’”

Woodruff’s third collaboration with Kim Norman, She’ll Be Coming Up the Mountain (Sterling Children’s Books), will hit the shelves this October. Published by Christy Ottaviano Books, Emerson Barks is available at The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne.

Contact: Geeda@thecharlottenews.org