Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… and when the beholder is a child (or a grownup with childlike wonder!), even something as simple as a scribble can be a masterpiece. Author illustrator Diane Alber knows this well, and has her son to thank for opening her eyes to the power of scribbles. Her newfound belief that everyone should scribble led her to write and illustrate countless children’s books, including the A Little SPOT Series, I’m Not Just a Scribble, Scribble Stones, Never Let a Unicorn Scribble! (now available on Vooks!), and many others—as well as found National Scribble Day.
We chatted with Diane about how her undiagnosed dyslexia affected her childhood relationship with reading, the story of her son’s scribbles, and much more.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Did you always have an affinity for art? Did books play a big role in your childhood?
I’ve always loved art since the day I could hold my first crayon. Art has always been a way that I have expressed myself and I am so happy that I’m able to draw all the time and make money doing it. This might be a little unexpected, but as a child, I really despised reading and writing, because I was really horrible at it. I honestly went through my entire grade school thinking I was just stupid, but at least I could draw. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was diagnosed with dyslexia, which seems pretty ironic now because I’m an author. I think that’s what makes my books so unique—I am great at telling stories with pictures and the words are an added benefit.
What led you to the world of children’s books?
When I had my son, we received so many children’s books. As I was reading them to my son, I thought it would be so neat if I created a book that he could remember reading in his childhood. I think we all have that favorite book we remember as a kid and I felt it would be special if one of my books made his list.
Diane’s daughter and son
What inspires your work?
My children! Every story I have ever written was for them!
As an author/illustrator, you have the opportunity to create both the visual and written voice of your stories. Which usually comes first—the art or the words—and which do you find more challenging to create?
I actually create all the images first, then I write the story. I know it sounds a little backwards, but once I have the illustrations the words just fit into place.
You wrote and illustrated Never Let a Unicorn Scribble!, which was recently released on Vooks as an animated storybook. What was it like seeing this book come to life?
I absolutely LOVED seeing this book come to life. Vooks did such an unbelievable job at capturing the story in such a fun way! I especially love when the crayons start shooting out of the unicorn’s horn. It’s so fun!
What inspired this fun and imaginative story about a very creative unicorn and her adorable human friend?
My daughter was 5 at the time that I wrote this story—she was definitely in a “unicorn phase” and begged me to write a unicorn story. She also loves to draw and scribble and would create art with her little stuffed unicorn.
You’re also the creator and founder of National Scribble Day (March 27th). What does scribbling mean to you, and how do you hope this day will inspire others?
When my son was 4 years old, he pretty much could only scribble, and when I was his age I was drawing full characters, like Mickey Mouse. I wasn’t sure how to approach his scribbles and tried to teach him how to draw something that was “recognizable,” such as a sun or a house. I was so determined to help him create “something” instead of just scribbling that he grew frustrated with me and said, “No, mommy, it will NOT be a house; it’s just a scribble!” He then put two googly eyes on his little scribble to help me see what he could see, which was a little scribble character! It was so amazing! I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t appreciate what he created and at that moment I gained a new appreciation for scribbles. After that, I would scribble with him and I created scribble characters too. I saw how his confidence grew in drawing and it was unbelievable! The more he scribbled, the more his drawing skills evolved. Now his scribbles are IN houses with a sun shining bright! It was so awesome to see how just a scribble that was appreciated by an adult could not only build confidence in a child but also increase their creativity. And that is what National Scribble Day is all about!
Diane’s home library, where she also works
Like Vooks, you work hard to create resources that support teachers in their important mission to educate the next generation. Do you have a favorite teacher from your school days, and if so, how did he/she inspire you?
Yes, I have two actually! The first is Mrs. Sullivan in third grade, who used to do this assignment where she would draw a squiggle on the board and we would have to make it into something and write a story about it. I absolutely loved that activity. The other is Mrs. Boyle, who was my high school art teacher. She truly believed in me when I had a hard time believing in myself and helped me pursue my degree in art.
Lastly, what’s your favorite way to enjoy a book?
My favorite way to enjoy a book is by reading it to my kids, having them read it to me, or watching a Vooks book together! It’s a great way to bond!