The Next Chapter

Why children's book author Barbara Reid looks to the sky for inspiration

The bestselling author and artist on creating picture book Picture The Sky.
Barbara Reid is an award-winning author and illustrator of children's books. (Ian Chrysler)

Children's author Barbara Reid, who uses plasticine to illustrate her stories, has written several bestselling books including Picture a Tree and Sing a Song of Mother Goose. In 2013, Reid was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

Her book Picture The Sky was a finalist for the 2018 TD Canadian Children's Literature Award and was chosen by readers to win CBC's Fan Choice Contest

Head in the clouds

"The idea behind Picture The Sky came as I was working on an earlier book, Picture a Tree. It's very hard not to look at the sky when you're paying attention to trees. I work a lot with kids in schools and they send me tons of artwork. I saw how much the sky is a feature in children's work and how much it affects the mood of their pictures.

"Especially working with plasticine, as I do, when kids are doing it, they're building layers of pictures and they start with the sky and build forward. It's a real scene-setting thing. I realized how much it's the background to all kinds of art and emotions."

The moody sky

"The sky, it affects me a lot. I really like to be outdoors. I get quite grumpy and fussy if I'm not outdoors and I do tend to look up. I look at the moon, I look at the stars, the sunsets. I love the grey November skies, actually, I guess because I am a Scottish person. The gloom is kind of nice. There isn't a sky that I don't enjoy."

Mould master 

"I start far away with the background and spread the clay, and then start building up the layers. Often the exciting detail is in the last five minutes of a 12-day job. It's a fun process."

Barbara Reid's comments have been edited for length and clarity.