Nashville artist Rebecca Green, who works at the artist-run studio The Warren, doesn’t seem to slow down. She creates illustrations for children’s and young-adult books, does editorial art, and illustrates for galleries. Step into Nashville’s Parnassus Books, and you can see the enchanting new story-time mural she created for the shop last summer. With the publication of How to Make Friends with a Ghost, she adds picture-book creator to her long list of accomplishments.
Charming and quirky, the book is a faux how-to guide on creating lasting friendships with ghosts, incorporating advice from none other than Dr. Phantoneous Spookel, leading ghost expert and poet. It all begins with a young human who is “found” by a ghost. After all, the girl is sweet, warm, and kind, qualities to which ghosts are drawn. And it ends with the same girl as an elderly woman, still hanging out with her spectral friend. In the end, the woman becomes a ghost herself, and the two remain friends “even after the end.”
The story is not as macabre as it may sound. Green’s gouache and colored-pencil illustrations, rendered in a subdued gray and red palette, communicate much tenderness. This is, above all, a friendship story, sweet but never cloying.
Green recently answered questions from Chapter 16 via email.
Chapter 16: Did anything surprise you about the picture book-making process?
Rebecca Green: This might sound naive, but honestly just the sheer amount of work it is to make a picture book. This can go for illustrating another author’s book, but especially creating all the content. There were elements I’d never had to address in other illustration projects, such as consistency, timing, and long-term focus. Let’s just say I have a whole new respect for picture book-makers—and book-makers in general.
Green: The handbook style was my immediate spark of inspiration for the book, so from the very beginning I set out to specifically make a guide. The relationship between Bellis, the girl, and the ghost was more of an evolution.
Chapter 16: What has it been like to share this story with children?
Green: I’ve done a few bookstore events and a school visit, and it’s been really fun reading the books to kids. Without fail, they all moan in disgust at one of the ghost’s favorite snacks: pickled boogers! I’ve also had parents reach out to share that their children have been requesting this as part of a nightly reading ritual, and that really moves me. That’s something new for me, to connect with children, as I’ve spent much of my short career doing work for an older audience.
Chapter 16: You work with about ten other artists in an artist-run studio in Nashville. What influence does that kind of environment have on your work, if any?
Green: Sharing a workspace with other illustrators has been monumental, I think, for all of us. We get to bounce ideas off of each other and get immediate feedback. We share our new book ideas and in-process work, and every time something is shared, everyone jumps in to critique, and the work always comes out stronger and with new perspective.
Chapter 16: Do you feel like the editorial illustrations you do also influence your work with children’s books?
Green: I’ve actually stepped away from most other work at this point and am just focusing on books, children’s and middle-grade. What I would like to focus on more are personal projects to further hone my style, improve the narrative element of my illustrations, and to simplify. That’s hard for me. I think the personal exploration is what will influence my future children’s-book work the most.
Chapter 16: On that note, what’s next for you?
Green: I plan to explore and play. I want to write more. Maybe make more three-dimensional work. Get looser, messier, and less precise. Tell longer stories. Write a graphic novel. Paint a giant painting. Create a travel journal. Sketch more. Play is what it all comes down to!
Chapter 16: Ever seen a ghost you could report to Dr. Phantoneous Spookel?
Green: Great question. If I said no (and I’d have to say no), Dr. Phantoneous Spookel would probably poetically remind me that I haven’t been sweet, warm, or kind enough!
Julie Danielson, a former school librarian, blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and writes about picture books for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage. Her first book, Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, was published in 2014.