The Secret Life of Squirrels & Merry Christmas Squirrels!, Nancy Rose
Surprisingly, The Secret Life Of Squirrels and Merry Christmas, Squirrels! are actually quite different. Using a digital camera, Rose captures the natural curiosity of squirrels without capturing them; wild squirrels visit her hand-made sets, do as they please, and all while remaining outdoors in nothing but their own fur coats. Like a squirrel herself, Rose hides nuts in dioramas that, not only coax squirrels to search for them, but position the squirrels within Rose’s storyline; a squirrel might look as if it is doing laundry - pulling items out of the drier, but it is actually searching for a strategically placed nut. It can take 30, and in some cases, 100 shots to get the one image Rose wants. In the end, though, it’s a win-win-win; there are nuts for squirrels (and the occasional blue jay), pictures for Rose, and smiles for us.
Harry Wittier Frees got his book deal after a successful line of picture-post cards led to newspaper exposure. For Rose, almost exactly one century later, a viral Flickr post brought enough press to catch the attention of an agent. The images of both seem too incredible to achieve without any digital trickery. Thus, their images cause many to wonder, “how?” In fact, Rose is often asked if the squirrels are pets or stuffed. Unlike Frees, Rose lives in an age where it is easy to be open and share one's techniques. Rose's social media posts continually document her latest projects. Followers can see Rose create her dioramas out of wood, clay, toys and found objects from her home in Nova Scotia. They can watch as finished sets are placed on her outdoor deck, and then enjoy as very lively visitors are videoed and photographed coming to explore them.
Rose has said she only uses Photoshop to clone out nut shells that may result in her images, and to add texture to her backgrounds when needed. Caldecott honoree Mo Willems too reportedly removed small details like trash cans and “ugly” air conditioners for the neighborhood images in the Knuffle Bunny books. That got me thinking about an interview where Willems discussed having to remove the store signs as well. A major challenge to making a photographically-illustrated book is if permission is needed to use an image. When creating She Yelled. I Screamed…She Pulled my Hair!, I deleted logos and brand-related images from my daughters’ clothes . Since Rose has used so many miniatures, I asked her about this. She felt the lack of licensing issues contributed to why her publisher liked her homemade sets. In fact, she now avoids anything that is “labeled and branded” but adds:
and I have received lots of photos of things kids have made, which I really love to see!”
Nancy Rose’s next book, The Secret Life of Squirrels: A Love Story, can be pre-ordered now and is due out in December 2016.
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