All Around Bustletown: Interview with Illustrator and Author Rotraut Susanne Berner

“All Around Bustletown” is a series of books by author Rotraut Susanne Berner that chronicles the activities in charming Bustletown throughout all four seasons.

“All Around Bustletown” is a series of books by author Rotraut Susanne Berner that chronicles the activities in charming Bustletown throughout all four seasons. Featuring recurring characters in various settings, each vibrant illustration is printed on an oversized page. Spring brings cleaning and flowers, Summer leads to picnics and bike rides, Autumn leads to colorful leaves and pumpkins, and Winter brings snow and sledding. Stunningly detailed and entirely delightful, this collection of books is one of the strongest examples of the “seek and find” genre ever created.

Recently, author and illustrator Rotraut Susanne Berner discussed the series, and her experiences working on these wonderful books, via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for drawing and why do you gravitate towards children’s books?

Rotraut Susanne Berner (RSB):  Drawing and reading was always a part of my life. Even in times when I was not able to read, I looked at pictures and invented my own stories, as each child does.

MM: What inspired you to create Bustletown and how long did it take you to draw each of these very complicated scenes?

Each page has many fun things to see.

RSB: First, it was my publisher who asked me to do a book, what we call in Germany “Wimmelbuch” – it means a kind of book with a lot of details, people, animals, activities. Then I thought about something new: a series of books without words, anyway telling stories. As I remember my own childhood very well, I remember the pride and the joy I had when reading pictures and books quite autonomously, without the help of grown-ups. So, the idea was also to attract readers with different levels of age and education. A child, two years old, will point to different objects, people, or animals and tell their names. The child which is four years old, will discover the little stories in the books and follow them from page to page, and then from book to book.

MM: What’s your favorite spread in each book and which characters appeal to you in particular?

RSB:  I do not have a favorite spread – all belong together, you will discover, that the whole book is one landscape – you could make one continuing picture out of all pages. Concerning the characters, there are more or less references, friends and colleagues, who act as reference. The bookseller at the market-place, for instance, is my husband! Other people come from fantasy, from watching people on the street.

MM: How did you settle on the four seasons theme and in what order did you draw them?

RSB:  First I did the winter-book, and the idea on the four seasons was established at that time as an essential factor of the story-telling. By the way, I describe the change and manifestation of nature, but also the change of lifestyle during the four seasons, like clothing, activities, social life, customs, holidays and so on.

The characters repeatedly appear on different pages.

MM: How long did it take to complete the entire series overall?

RSB:  I started in 2003 with the winter book and the autumn-book was done in 2007. After that, I thought the series should be finished. But then I found out, that all times during a day – morning, noon, afternoon and evening are described – but not the night. So, I added a 5th book – the night-book, which gives attention to a summer-night!

MM: How did you find the publisher and how have they been pitching this book?

RSB: As it was one of my publishers who proposed me to do the books, it was not necessary to find a publisher. First it was not so easy to convince parents and adults to accept books without words. But it turned out soon that children did love these books and that they are even better readers of pictures than grown-ups. So slowly but surely these books became a big success all over the world.

MM: What were the challenges of keeping all the storylines going, throughout all four books, without words?

RSB:  I compare the work on it with the making of a movie: I did a script first for each book, engaging the actors, considering the circumstances of the season, the weather, and there is always one main event in each book, like a birthday party in summer, or the lantern procession in autumn. And there must be a lot of “side shows.” After the script, I did a story-board and at the very end, I did the drawings, totally analogue on paper – 20 % larger as printed.

MM: What do you hope readers remember most about the Bustletown books?

Rotraut Susanne Berner is an author and illustrator.

RSB:  I have found that children typically have a favorite person or animal in the books. It is a great feeling to imagine such a lot of children all over the world, how they are reading my books, having fun with the little stories, knowing all the protagonists.

MM: What other topics and themes might you like to address in future books?

RSB:  In this moment I have some projects – but I don’t want to talk about them just yet.

MM: What projects are coming up for you soon and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

RSB:  I want to tell all parents, teachers, relatives that, regardless of how old your child is, books are the best companions in the world!

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To learn more about Rotraut Susanne Berner, follow publisher Prestel Twitter and Facebook.