A Place for Turtles
By Melissa Stewart; illus. by Higgins Bond
32 pages, ages 6-10
A Place for Turtles is the sixth book in a series that Melissa Stewart started a dozen years ago. Like other in the “A Place for…” series, this one provides a fascinating look at a diversity of turtles – and lists many ways that people can help protect turtles and their habitats. Stewart explains how turtles are related to other animals (they’re herps), where they live, what they eat, and why they are important for the environment. She explains why plastic bags are dangerous – they look like jellyfish and sea turtles eat them by mistake – and includes “turtle tidbits” – did you know a turtle shell is made of 60 different bones?
The illustrations are every bit as precise and informative as the writing. Higgins Bond has illustrated each book in the series, and I love the bright, crisp images and the field-guide feel she gives to the book. It begins with the endpapers – the range maps that show where each turtle species can be found – and continues with spreads that draw us into the habitats where each lives.
Higgins studied art and has produced illustrations for the Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian Institute, the US Post Office and scads of children’s books. She calls her style “photo-realistic”. To get that realism, she works from photos. She takes her own when she can, and relies on extensive reference files and books. While she uses the information from those sources, she respects the work of photographers; she doesn’t copy their work. In fact, she draws on 10 – 15 sources for a single illustration.
Archimedes: What medium do you use to illustrate the "Place for" series?
Higgins: I have always done my color illustrations with acrylic paint on illustration board. When I do larger work I work on canvas. I like acrylics because it is fast and can be easily corrected if necessary. But I use watercolor brushes because I can get better detail with them.
Archimedes: Talk about the process of illustrating “A Place for…” books and your collaboration with Melissa.
Higgins: Once I get Melissa’s manuscript I do a lot of research. Then I start to work on sketches. I usually get some suggestion from the Art Director and Melissa as to what they think might work on each page. But it is ultimately up to me to interpret what the author has written. Once the sketches are done the editors, art directors and Melissa all have to approve and make any changes. Then I start to paint. Melissa and I send occasional emails, and I’ve met her at book signings and book fairs. I love working on her books – but I think the fact that we are not too close allows us to remain objective about our jobs.
Archimedes: What is illustrating stamps like?
Higgins: That was my greatest honor to have illustrated three stamps for the US Postal Service. There is much more pressure to get it right when you illustrate a stamp. It has to stand the test of time. The paintings are about 7 inches x 9 inches. I remember having to work very fast because I was not given much time to complete it.
Archimedes: Why is "Higgins Bond" an illustrator and not a spy for her majesty's secret service?
Higgins: I became an illustrator because of my son. After graduating from college I worked as a sketch artist for a Park Avenue ad agency in New York City. But when I found I was going to have a baby I really wanted to stay at home with my child for at least a little while. Like most people, I couldn’t afford to not work, so I became a freelance illustrator. That allowed me to stay at home and still work. My son turns 39 this year, and I have illustrated 39 books - one for every year of his life.