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'You Are Light,' A Colorful Board Book For All Ages

Inspiration can come from places you'd least expect. That's what happened for author Aaron Becker. 

You may know Becker from his best-selling children's book trilogy, "Journey." His wordless books often feature expansive scenes of fantasy and nature.

This year, the Amherst, Massachusetts, author went in a different direction. His new book, "You Are Light," is an interactive board book filled with cut-outs and colored pieces of plastic.

Becker said he was inspired for the book during a recent trip to central Massachusetts.

Aaron Becker, author: I was on a silent retreat, like a meditation retreat. And it was out in a part of Massachusetts, out in the country, and it was at an old boarding school. And this boarding school used to be a Christian boarding school, and so they had stained glass everywhere, all over the campus.

And I'm doing this, like, walking meditation back and forth across the hall, between these two stained glass panes, and I just can't stop thinking — as much as I'm supposed to be paying attention to my breath — I just can't stop thinking about the colored light.

And when I came home, I got an X-ACTO blade, I started cutting paper, and slowly came up with this idea of merging colors in a book form.

James Szkobel-Wolff, NEPR: What did the prototype look like? Was it as clean as this is now? What did that kind of look like as a prototype?

It was pretty close. Usually when you're pitching a story to an editor, maybe it could be written down on a napkin, or you're sending really sketchy drawings as an illustrator. But this one, I knew I had to prove the concept. I had to prove that it could be built, and that it could work.

So I actually sat down and built the whole thing in three dimensions. The one difference is that the entire book was full of very fine cuts and patterns. And once the publisher took the project on and decided to do it, they realized that that level of detail wasn't going to be possible in, like, a mass-produced object.

This book is such a departure from your other types of work that are so illustrative, and focused on the paintings and drawings. Is this a new beginning for you as an author? Is this the type of road you're looking to go down, and books like "Journey" and "Return" are in the past?

No. I'm working on a book right now that's another wordless book. So I'm kind of going back and forth between those modes. We're also working on another follow-up to "You Are Light" right now that's another spin on the same idea of using these cut-outs and colored light. So I am doing more of these, but I'm also still doing the other stuff.

I find that I go where my interests take me, and I've been working on writing a middle-grade novel — so like completely non-illustrative for the first time. I find that if I stay in one mode too long, I get bored and restless. So there's lots of sides to my creativity, I suppose, and so I'm going to explore them all, as long as I have the chance.

This book feels like both a piece of literature and a piece of artwork. This is a children's book at the end of the day — but who's this book for? Who's the intended audience, and what's the kind of message you're trying to share with your audience?

Because this book grew out of my own curiosity and interest, I don't think I was really thinking of designing it for someone else other than my own sort-of play. It was a chance to do something that was a little bit less intensive as coming up with a storyline. There is a poem involved, but really most of the work was play, and so my hope is that it resonates with anyone.

To me, yes, a toddler is certainly going to get something out of this book, but so are young kids, old kids, adults. It's certainly, I think, an all-ages kind of experience, and it gives us a chance to slow down, and see something of beauty, I think.

Keep up here with the NEPR back-to-school book series.

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