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Introducing: How To Behave at a Tea Party

Heather Ross13 Comments

I'm so pleased to finally be able to tell you about this book, which will be out in the fall of 2014.

I dont think it's a coincidence that picture book illustrators often have a lot in common with the characters they help create. I'm not sure if art is imitating life or the other way around, but it happens a lot.

How To Behave at a Tea Party is the first of a series about a little girl named Julia, who at first I failed to see myself in at all. But then I told my neice Mattie (who was maybe thirteen at the time) about Julia. "She wants to throw a tea party, and have it all go perfectly and beautifully, but she ends up getting really upset because she's got ssome control issues and things don't go as planned." And she said "Like you at your wedding?" I shot a glare over the breakfast bar in her mother's - my sister's -  direction, but she quickly pretended to be loading her dishwasher, conveniently disappearing from view.

I loved every part of working on this book, and not just because of Madelyn's brilliant mind and wonderful writing style. I also loved it because Julia came into my life at a moment when I was looking hard at how I was spending my time, now made more expensive by becoming a mother, and my own work, wondering if I was living in a lifestyle or a lifestyle brand. Feeling like maybe the perfect scenes I was seeing (and, OK, placing) in social media weren't maybe making our lives harder somehow. If blogs and lifestyle brands and exposure were really adding value to my life, or pulling me away from it, into a virtual world of illusion that made me want more things, want more perfection, more beautiful vignettes. I thought, while sketching the illustrations in this book, about the tea party I had thrown for my one year old daughter, for twenty eight mostly adult guests, on linens and fine china, styled, sometimes forced, and photographed to the umpteenth degree.

Around the time I wrapped up this book I made a new rule in my own life. I would say yes to the work that meant more time actually drawing and writing, regardless of pay. I would say no to anyone who expected me to accept "brand exposure" as a form of compensation for my time or my work. And because these two points would mean that my job would involve a lot of hours working in isolation, I would develop my teaching events into celebrations of the handmade community, which is full of people that I love and respect, and am inspired by. And, most importantly, I would try to hard to not compare (and compete with) my life to perfectly styled scenes, and that when I had the urge, as I do every time something good happens, to take over the scene and manipulate it's composition to make a good picture, I would instead try, as my daugher now likes to say, to "put my phone back in my pocket."

And then, OK, I did throw another crazy fancy party for Bee, on her 2nd birthday. But this time I didn't mind so much when things were spilled or broken, and I put out the good china for the toddlers, and I ecouraged every kid in our neighborhood to come, which they did, fresh from the gravel roads with their little dirt bikes, piled up in a crazy heap with their tires still spinning, in my driveway as though they were left by a biker gang who had just run into a bar for a fight. I didn't even freak out when they moved the party upstairs, moving like a swarm of yelling locusts up the steps and bursting through the hinges on the safety gate with it's sticky latch and leaving it lying on it's side, looking relieved. We ate piles of cake and didn't look at our watches, naps were skipped and the dog ate a lot of things that he shouldn't have, and we did have some very pretty moments, of which we did take pictures, but this time they were of moments that were actually happening on their own.

small steps, I hope, towards really mastering the art of knowing How to Behave at a Tea Party.