Writing and illustrating children's books is hardly child's play. Just ask Seymour Chwast, the prolific children's book author and illustrator who with Milton Glaser co-founded in 1955 the famous design firm Push Pin Studios. For more than 40 years, Chwast has proposed an average of two or three books a year to publishers, of which on average one is accepted. Of course, that batting average is better than any major-league slugger's stats, but for Chwast, a rejection is a rejection, no matter how frequent the successes.
At 82, Chwast still makes expressive comic drawings that reveal his inner child. His art hero, Bruno Munari (1907-1998), an Italian designer who created many conceptual books for children, inspired him "to instill visual ideas in my books, play with words, and do tricks with the paper," Chwast told me. As a consequence, many of his works are tactile, multi-sensory experiences that can be appreciated by child and adult alike. And yet some of his proposals are so high concept or clever they are deemed difficult for a child to enjoy. Therein lies is his weakness.
So, for the fun of it, I asked Chwast to gather up some of his favorite, if heartbreaking, misfires, which are wrapped neatly in a drawer, waiting for the day an editor might want to resurrect them. Some failures sting more for Chwast than others. He told me that his most disappointing rejection was when he "wrote and Illustrated Arno and the MiniMachine. It was about the environment and culture in the future and was picked up by a prominent editor, who then refused to publish my finished work."