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Embracing the Imperfect: Wabi-Sabi and Fancy Pencils--Jeanette Bradley in the KidLit Studio

Updated: Mar 14




I met Jeanette when we were both in the same 2018 picture book debut group--the "Epic Eighteen," we called ourselves. I immediately loved her energy and her style as an artist. Her first picture book as both author and illustrator was Love, Mama, a tender book about the bond between a mother and child, even when they are far apart. I fell in love with the soft, cheery pastels and the story--so much so that I bought copies for every child relative I had!


Jeanette views picture books as a performative art form, at the juncture of where literature, visual art, and theatre meet. Her most recent book, No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, which Jeanette both co-edited and illustrated, released in 2020 to great acclaim. A Kirkus Best and an NCTE Best of Informational Books for 2020, it's an inspirational book that definitely works in all three of those artistic arenas. Look for a new poetry anthology called No World Too Big about young global climate activists in 2023! Jeanette lives in Rhode Island with her wife, two kids, and her “studio assistant” Cleo Duchess McWhiskers.

1. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Keeping my kids alive to date. (Kidding, not kidding.)


2. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t believe in perfection. For me, happiness is found in the acceptance of transience

and imperfection. In my art I embrace the aesthetic of “wabi sabi” – the Japanese

concept of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. I want the messy

hand pencil marks left in my work because that makes it human, and we relate to the

sense of a human handmade mark in a way we don’t to machined perfection.


3. What is your most treasured possession?

I honestly can’t think of any commodity that would make “most treasured

possession” list. I do have a love of books signed by authors and illustrators though,

especially if they are friends.


4. When and where were you the happiest?

I am always the happiest near moving water. A walk near the ocean, salt marsh, or

woodland stream is my reset button.


5. What is it that you most dislike?

People who cloak their racism and homophobia in religious language in order to feel

justified in the pain they inflict on others.


6. What is your greatest extravagance?

See comment about signed books.

7. Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be able to really sing.


8. Where would you like to live?

Someday I want to live where I can see the ocean.


9. What do you most value in your friends?

Shared laughter, struggles, and joys.

10. Who is your favorite hero/heroine of fiction?

Meg from A WRINKLE IN TIME – because she accepts and then uses her imperfections

for the greater good.


11. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Ha! I had to look up what the virtues are. Using Aristotle’s 12 virtues, I would say

Magnificence – What we now call charisma. Humans have a huge weakness for

charisma, as demonstrated by our 45th president, Hitler, Jim Jones, and other terrible

men of history who had that magic pull of charisma but used it to terrible ends.


12. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would be me, but with a Caldecott medal.


13. What is your perfect environment for creative work?

A spacious, light-filled room with no interruptions. Follow up question that needs to be

asked: Q: Where did you draft, revise, and dummy out the sketches for your first book?

A: The hard, metal, bleachers of the Y during swim practice, crammed in between bags

of wet kid stuff, whiny toddlers, and gossiping parents. Perfection doesn’t exist, but

beauty can be found in unlikely places.


14. What’s the weirdest thing about you that you’re willing to share?

I have a quirky love affair with Staedtler norica HB pencils – the black ones with the

white erasers. They must finely sharpened, so I sometimes carry an entire box around

with me in case they get dull when I’m away from my electric pencil sharpener. These

aren’t even drawing pencils, but I always end up drifting back to them.


15. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I have a fantasy of opening an indie bookstore café with my friend and critique partner

whose husband is an amazing pastry chef.


16. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

I really loved Natasha Pulley’s THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET and THE

LOST FUTURE OF PEPPERHARROW. They are a wild steampunk ride through 1880s

England and Japan that also somehow feel like a warm hug. Highly recommend for a

cozy winter curl up and read day.


17. What is the favorite book of your childhood?

FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS by Arnold Lobel. I still revisit it, and it is still

perfection. OK, it’s not perfection, because that doesn’t exist. It is still absolutely

beautiful and true, and contains the hand mark making and word crafting of a fellow

human who you can sense in those pages.


18. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God/Goddess say when you arrive?

“Nice work!”



More about Jeanette:


Her website: www.jeanettebradley.com

A piece about inspiration by Jeanette: https://taralazar.com/2018/01/26/storystorm-2018-day-26-jeanette-bradley/



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