Mickey Paraskevas has been creating covers for Dan’s Papers since Dan’s Papers has had covers—30 years. He’s also written and illustrated his own books, and those of others. Most recently, Paraskevas released the beautiful Poetry for Kids: Robert Frost.
How did this book come together?
I was given the poems that were to be included, read through them in a few days and scribbled my initial thoughts on a yellow legal pad. At first the book was supposed to be only five full-page paintings and a few spots for the other poems. I did a rough layout of what I wanted the painting to reflect and the editors thought I was right on target. The book took several months to paint and it’s all on canvas. I painted my last book, Mr. Moon, on the computer. So it was nice to go back to painting on linen. They’re all in my studio. I’m waiting for the right place to have a show of them all.
Do you have a favorite poem/painting pairing in the book?
I really like all of them. There are a few I wish I could do over, but I didn’t have the time. I know that sounds silly, but I’m a perfectionist and illustration requires time constraints. If I had to pick two of them, the one with all the papers blowing off the desk is my wife’s favorite. So that’s not for sale. I also like the dog looking off into the distance by the tree with the snow falling. That’s my mother-in-law’s dog, Wrenford. He’s the best.
Do you have a favorite Robert Frost poem?
There are so many good ones. Everyone likes “The Road Not Taken” but in this book I like “Ghost House.” I liked the painting too.
Why, in your opinion, is it important to expose children to poetry and art?
My mother and father took my sister and me to more Broadway shows when we were growing up than movies. I have fond memories of meeting Debbie Reynolds one day. I even met Ruby Keeler. I was in L.A. once and bumped into Billy Dee Williams and got a huge smile out of him when I told him I’d seen him on Broadway in Hallelujah Baby in 1967. I still can’t get that smile out of my head. He was beaming ear-to-ear. You should take kids to everything.
If you could have coffee with one poet, or one other painter, who would it be?
I wish I could talk to Robert Weaver again. He died in 1994 and was the best teacher I had in graduate school. I have lots of questions to ask him. I would also like to talk to my wonderful mother again. There are so many times I still want to shout downstairs, “Hey, Betty, turn on the news.” She died in 2010. [She’s] very missed by my wife, too. Besides writing some of the best scripts for Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, she was the funniest voice on our puppet show, The Cheap Show. You can still find it online.
What else is keeping you busy?
I’ll be giving a talk at the Southampton Arts Center for the East End Collected4 show with a group of other artists on April 29 at 4 p.m. I’ll show some slides and hope to be somewhat entertaining. The show runs March 31 to May 20. I’ll also have some paintings at Messina’s in Westhampton Beach. I’m currently writing a new pilot script for a revival of Maggie and the Ferocious Beast and I’m illustrating a new book called A Big Slice of Pie. I love pie. It’s for Nettie’s Bakery in Center Moriches. That should be out next fall if I can get it all done. I might do a book of cartoons to celebrate my 30 years at Dan’s Papers but I might have to wait for the 50th year. We’ll see.
See more of Paraskevas’s work at michaelparaskevas.com.