Author Spotlight: Melissa Sweet

I don't know about you, but Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday of the year. I love it so much because the day is filled with fun and excitement, family, friends, and feasting. Thanksgiving really kicks off the holiday season and there is just so much magic that seems to be in the air. I love Thanksgiving!

One of my favorite things to do is to put the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on television while we bake and cook; it's so much fun to see so many different groups of people and bands on television and it's just such a fun event to be a part of (I'm sure it's amazing in person, but being a part of it [warm] at home is equally fun for me!). 

I didn't really give the parade much thought until I came across a book a few years ago called, Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet. In this story, Ms. Sweet tells the history of the Thanksgiving Day Parade (which is truly fascinating) and the history behind the iconic, colossal balloons in the parade. It is an amazing read with excellent illustrations, pictures, and graphics. A must-read in my opinion!

I was honored to have author and illustrator, Melissa Sweet agree to an interview regarding her book, Balloons Over Broadway and about being an author and illustrator:

Kapeesh Kaposh (KK): How did you get into book writing and illustrating? Had you always wanted to write and/or illustrate a children's book?

The amazingly talented Melissa Sweet
Melissa Sweet (MS): I was in art school when I began thinking about being an illustration might be fun, and especially if I could make children's books. After college I began sending out artwork, and story ideas with lots of rejection, and a little encouragement from publishing houses. Finally I went to New York City with my portfolio, and came home with a contract for Pinky and Rex. I wrote my first book, Carmine: A Little More Red about 20 years later.

KK: You have a very unique and interesting illustration perspective since you use different objects and incorporate them into your illustrations; do you have any role-models in design, or did you find your own niche when you started illustrating?

MS: I've always liked collage, especially Joesph Cornell's work. But my collage style developed along the way in order to give my art more depth when I began illustrating picture book biographies.

KK: Many of your books are non-fiction; what has been your inspiration for these books? For instance, Balloons Over Broadway, was it the parade itself that first inspired you, or did you know about Tony Sarg beforehand?

MS: We always watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV growing up. But it was well into my career that I learned of Tony Sarg as a self-taught illustrator, puppeteer, and the inventor of the huge helium balloons for the Macy's Parade.

It seemed incredible that I had never heard of him before. I jumped at the chance to create a picture-book biography about him and his process of creating the balloons.

KK: What is it like to have New York Times best-selling books and Caldecott-honored books? Did you ever imagine you would have this kind of success?

MS: It's an honor, and I'm grateful beyond words for these acknowledgements. Being an artist and working in my studio everyday is a measure of success that I never take for granted.

KK: What was your favorite children's book growing up?

MS: Little Bear illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

KK: Is there an author that inspires you?

MS: Jill Lepore, is a nonfiction author, and also writes for the New Yorker, Ann Patchett, and E.B. White.

KK: What does your daily/weekly schedule look like as an accomplished and honored author and illustrator?

MS: I work in the studio everyday from about 8-4, five days a week, if not more. It's worked for me to have a daily routine, and keep that time frame fairly uninterrupted, especially in the morning.

KK: What advice do you have for those interested in writing/illustrating?

MS: Read a lot of books, take classes, join the SCBWI [Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators], and find a time to work everyday, even for a short while.

It's important to cultivate doing the kind of work you love with inspiring materials. Doing creative work is a practice.

KK: When you're not busy writing and illustrating, what do you like to do in your spare time?

MS: I walk our two dogs a lot, and I love going to museums, bookstores (and sometimes doing nothing at all!).

KK: What books (children and/or adult) are you currently reading right now?

MS: I'm reading Deborah Heiligman's Vincent and Theo. It's an amazing book! Deborah also wrote Charles and Emma, about the Darwins, and I couldn't put it down.

I just bought Roz Chast's new book Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York.

Melissa Sweet has illustrated over 100 books as well as many toys, puzzles, games for eeBoo. Her work has been in magazines, on greeting cards and as drawings on her living room walls.

She has written four books: Carmine: A Little More Red, a New York Times Best Illustrated book; Tupelo Rides the Rails; Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade, a Sibert Award winner (for informational books) and a NCTE Orbis Pictus winner for nonfiction; Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White, a New York Times Best Seller and NCTE Orbis Pictus award.

When I was teaching first grade, I LOVED teaching about the Thanksgiving Day parade and it's history (great to combine English Language Arts Standards with Social Studies Standards. It's so much fun! You can find my Balloons Over Broadway activity pack here.

You can also check out these great additional resources:

And if you want to know more about this amazing author and illustrator, check out Melissa Sweet's website here - I highly recommend checking out this site!

Finally, if you are interesting in pairing Balloons Over Broadway with other nonfiction, historical books about Thanksgiving and the parade, check out Milly and the Macy's Parade, by Shana Corey; and Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, by Laurie Halse Anderson - they are great complements to Balloons Over Broadway.