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A Visit to the 23rd Floor: Nina Crews

In 2004, Nina Crews’s The Neighborhood Mother Goose was published to wide acclaim.

Since then, Nina has had her first child, and she was inspired to illustrate a new collection of traditional songs and rhymes while singing to her newborn. Nina stopped by the office recently to show us how the project was coming along. The book doesn’t have a final title yet, but we’re thrilled with how it’s turning out. We thought you might be interested to read a bit about Nina’s creative process.

For this book, once I’d come up with a list of songs I wanted to include, I sat down to sketch. My sketches are like a filmmaker’s storyboard; I use them as guidance when I photograph. In sketching, I’m able to plan what I want my models to do in the scene and what props I might need. It also gets me thinking about the location for the photograph, though I usually have to do a bit of walking around my Brooklyn neighborhood to choose the exact spot. Sometimes my finished pages resemble the sketches closely, but more often they don’t.

I first set Yankee Doodle on a brownstone building, with a group of children playing. Later, I decided that a close-up on one main character would work better, since there would be a fair amount of type on the page and I didn’t want to lose the detail of the feather in his cap. I scouted community murals in the neighborhood and shopped for a hat for the boy to wear. My model, Rumi, was a little shy at first, but eventually he and his beautiful face lit up.

The spread that illustrates I’m a Little Teapot and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe was planned as two separate pages. But once I decided to set One, Two, Buckle My Shoe on a dining table with food and a live chicken, I chose to use both rhymes for the spread. I had already photographed a chicken for another project, so I could cross that off my list. Next was to create a still life background image with a hodgepodge of china. The children were all photographed at different times in the course of shoots where each child had a larger role (no pun intended). This spread involved a lot of Photoshop work. Selection masks were made for all the children and the chicken, and then they were copied and pasted into the still life. I added shadows, a stem of flowers, and the door to complete the composition.

Look for Nina’s collection of neighborhood songs and rhymes in 2011. And be sure to visit Nina at http://www.ninacrews.com/.


  1. Camilla says:

    OMG. HOW MUCH do I love this book?! It’s truly one of the gems of the Greenwillow list! It’s lively and warm and fun, and, gosh darn it, MAGICAL. It captures both childhood and the reason I left Manhattan for Brooklyn (a good 15 years or so ago) PERFECTLY. How many books can say that??

  2. cindy says:

    so imaginative and fun!
    can’t wait to pick it up in actual
    book form. congratulations!!

  3. […] Crews stopped by the other day to review the mechanicals for Neighborhood Rhymes and Songs for Children. She met with Steve and Sylvie in our dark cave of a conference room (we share it—and the rest of […]

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