Jean-François Dumont is a French author and illustrator who has created many stories for children, including The Chickens Build a Wall (Eerdmans) and A Blue So Blue (Sterling), winner of the 2004 Prix Saint-Exupéry, an award given yearly to the best illustrated picture book in France.
What made you decide to become a writer-illustrator?
Since childhood I’ve always loved drawing, so making it my trade came quite naturally to me. I started off as an illustrator, and gradually I had the urge to write my own stories, as the projects I was offered were not exactly the things that I wanted to draw. My first work as an author-illustrator was “Le roi qui rêvait d’être grand—The King who wished he was tall” set in a medieval atmosphere with kings, minstrels, fortified castles, and many other things that I had never drawn before!
What’s a typical workday like?
It is difficult to say. The key to my job is to avoid routine, even though it is sometimes difficult, especially when you reach the stage where you have to add in the color. The writing part is more varied with its research and documentation, as well as trying out the first sketches. When I search for inspiration, I can either go for a walk into the forest, or on the contrary lock myself up in my office all day!
Where do the ideas for your books come from?
Mostly my ideas come from the urge that I have to draw something specific, such as an animal, or a setting.
Do you have any advice for would-be writers/ illustrators?
You have to believe in yourself and in your own luck.
What characteristics do writers need most?
I believe that imagination is the key to all creation, whether it is graphic, written, or something else. In that sense, I don’t really see a difference between writing and illustrating. The work in both these fields is fueled by one’s ability to invent characters, universes, situations, etc. The rest—the style, technique, pencil stroke—all comes down to work.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer and an illustrator?
It’s the freedom to create.
What do you do to shake off the rust or get new ideas?
I don’t think we really shake off the rust. I see our line of work more as a path that we follow with forks that take us to one side or another, sometimes with little strides and sometimes big strides.
What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing and illustrating?
From a publisher: “Wow your work is fantastic! I’m tripling your royalties!”
Tell us about The Chickens Build a Wall. What inspired you to write and illustrate this book?
This story is the result of an anger which was growing in me at the time and a graphic idea that I had. This anger came from seeing more and more walls being built around the world, when we know perfectly well that isolating people leads to setting them against one another! At the time we were not talking about Trump, but about the wall between Israel and Palestine. A few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, another wall was being built to keep one’s neighbor at a distance. This seemed really hopeless!
As for the characters, if in my previous books I did have a few chickens here and there, I thought that these animals would be particularly well suited to illustrate this topic, with all the peep sounds, a populist rooster, and the stupidity which can come from life in a closed, self-centered group.
What’s up next for you?
Right now, I am working on a YA novel. It is something very new and exciting to me, but it is very hard work!
The Chickens Build a Wall by Jean-François Dumont
The chickens at the farm are building a wall, and no one is quite sure why. But they know one thing: the hedgehog that wandered in must be trouble. So all winter they build and build, until they have a wall that towers over the barn. When spring comes, though, they find that everything hasn’t gone quite according to plan . . .
A fable for the modern day, The Chickens Build a Wall invites readers to examine the power of prejudice in their own communities.
Kids can add their own personal touch with a coloring page. Crayons not included.