By Sue Botos
Even with technology offering children a smorgasbord of sights and sounds, there is still something about a picture book that delights a young audience. Rocky River native Bill Cotter says that one of the best parts about writing and illustrating books for children is seeing that reaction.
Cotter, a graduate of Rocky River’s St. Christopher School and St. Ignatius High School (class of 2004), had his first book “Don’t Push the Button!” released in November 2013. His next, “Hello Airplane,” is due this fall. He recently chatted with West Life, via e-mail, about his career and future work.
“I always wanted to grow up to be an artist, and picture-book illustration was probably my first introduction to the idea that someone can make a living by drawing,” Cotter said. After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2008, he moved to New York City, where he spent several years teaching preschool art and music. It was this experience that provided the inspiration for his present career.
“Most of my book ideas have come from real-life interactions I had with my students. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to pay my rent in NYC with a very fun job that allowed me to do ‘field research’ for my illustration work. I had spent a lot of time up to that point working on my artistic skills, but had never really spent time with kids before,” he recalled.
The ability to witness his students’ reactions as he read to them provided Cotter with the perfect test audience. “This allowed me to see firsthand what kinds of characters, colors, textures, storylines, etc., that kids loved … and also the kinds that bored them to death. It was also really good for me to see all the different kinds of books that were already out in the world. I would come across beautiful books that I could aspire to, but also would come across a lot of books that convinced me that I could make something just as good or better,” he stated.
For Cotter, a guitarist as well as author and illustrator, the sound of the children’s laughter is music to his ears.
“It’s always amazing to see them react to (my) book. There’s nothing more affirming for a picture book author than hearing kids laughing. I’d say the hardest thing about illustrating is that you spend months or years planning and drawing a book, but the audience still has to experience it as something vibrant and spontaneous; something that is happening right before their eyes. Hearing kids laugh is for me the most definitive proof that I’ve bridged that gap between the initial idea and the final product.”
The next chapter for Cotter will be publication of his second book, “Hello Airplane.” (Both of his books are being published by Sourcebooks). “I am also in the initial stages of making a third book with Random House set to be on the shelves in fall 2015. The next release, ‘Hello Airplane,’ is a very simple book for toddlers. Similar to ‘Goodnight Moon,’ ‘Airplane’ is peaceful and repetitive. It could be read as a calming bedtime story, or something that could be read to a child before their first flight,” he explained.
Cotter visited the area in November signing copies of “Don’t Push the Button!” at Barnes & Noble at Crocker Park, but plans to be back soon, to welcome his own “test audience” in the form of a new niece or nephew.
“I have so many reasons to visit Rocky River! My parents still live in Rocky River, as well as my brother and his wife. They are expecting their first child in May, so I’ll definitely be back in River in just a few months.”