A Conversation with Giles Laroche

Kid Lit Vulture was able to squeeze in an impromptu interview with Giles Laroche when he visited a local elementary school. Amidst the dismissal-time din at the end of a day of building buildings with kids, Laroche opened a window on his early Northern New Hampshire encounters with books. His most recent work is If You Lived Here: Houses of The World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011).

Laroche’s rendering of the Connected Barn House in If You Lived Here.

Here’s Kid Lit Vulture’s elevator pitch—Laroche’s multilayered scenes rival the best fictive text in engaging the reader with a really nuanced sense of place. I won’t use the C-word but certain others in the children’s book world had this on their shortlist for a round, gold thingamajig.

I’ve seen a photo of your studio. It looks almost like a tree house. How did you come by that space?

The studio is connected to a 1780 house that I purchased in 1980. It was filled with debris left by the previous tenant. I emptied it gradually, put down a floor, and put in a glass panel, so it looks out over trees. The beams sort of mimic the branches of a tree. It wasn’t until I cleared it out and put in the floor that I realized, “That’s where I’m going to create my artwork.” It’s in New Hampshire. However, I do the vast majority of my work in Salem (Mass.) My studio there is on the top floor of an old Victorian house. It’s a very simple space, a large space. It has great light and quiet and sits above the trees.

Do you listen to anything while you work?

I do! I listen to a wide selection of music, I particularly like music from the 1920s and 1930s and medieval Spanish music.

Hoagy Carmichael, perhaps?

Yes! He was a great songwriter.

illustration from Maria Chapdelaine

What books do you remember reading as a child?

Well, I grew up in a somewhat different culture—French Canadian culture. We didn’t have the same books. For example, I didn’t become aware of Harold and the Purple Crayon until I was twelve or so. My mother read Maria Chapdelaine to me as a child, perhaps because it was her favorite book. It takes place well north of Quebec City near to where we have relatives.

I read newspapers and magazines ,which we had in abundance in a waiting room in my mom’s business. I discovered children’s picture books when I became an uncle at age 9 and read to nephews books like the Provensens’ Big Book of Color, the Richard Scarry books, and Barbara Cooney’s The Little Juggler.

Was Québécois your first language, then?

Yes.

I’m wondering about your exposure to certain other illustrators and authors, like Leo Lionni.

I didn’t read him as a child. I did read his books—Swimmy and Frederic, for example—to my niece and nephew when they were growing up. I’ve always liked Richard Scarry’s work. You know, when I was young, at home we had a dictionary on a pedestal. Well, we got a new one and I was given the old one. It was huge and richly illustrated. I used to draw in it. I feel like I read the whole thing,

Can you tell me about any artists who have inspired you, or whom you like?

So many! I really love Sienese artists from thirteenth century. I love that school of painting because they were illustrators.

Giles Laroche with child-made “city,” June 2012.

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