Science Book a Day Interviews John O’Brien



Special thanks to John O’Brien for answering 5 questions about illustrating the recently featured book – Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be

John O’Brien was born in Philadelphia, PA in 1953 and graduated from The Philadelphia College of Art in 1975. In the course of his career, he has worked with many notable publishers, illustrating 83 children’s books, 8 of which he also wrote.  He has done illustrations for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, Global Finance and Worth, and contributed to many other collections, anthologies and textbooks.  He has also had a long relationship with Highlights for Kids Magazine for which he has contributed numerous covers and interior illustrations. – From John’s Homepage

John’s Homepage:

#1 – What was the impetus for Mistakes that worked? How did you get involved in the project?

The publishers of Mistakes That Worked contacted me about my possibly illustrating a manuscript by Charlotte Foltz Jones which was a humorous text of a variety of inventions that happened by accident. I ,being a cartoonist as well as an illustrator, jumped on the chance, as it was right up my alley.

#2 – How did you go about drawing the mistakes? How did you make them engaging for kids?

I usually read the various parts of the book over and over and doodle until I can find some element that one might find funny or droll. I play with all sorts of possibilities and the sketches that work, I submit to the publisher.

#3 – Do you illustrate science books often? How do you convey the important information to kids without words?

I’ve illustrated all sorts of books, written some also, but I’m always particularly fond of books on science and history where I also learn something. I illustrated Accidents May Happen which was another book by Charlotte Jones and which contained a lot more of the inventions that didn’t fit in the first book. I had the opportunity to illustrate Blockhead which was about Fibonacci, an Italian mathematician and his number sequence which is found all around us in nature. I just finished Who Was Galileo, and while drawing, I learned a lot about his telescope, astronomy,and the science of motion.

#4 – Published in 1994, what feedback have you received about the book?

Mistakes That Worked has been out for over twenty years and people. Still find it enjoyable and educating. It gives you facts to throw around in discussions.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

Recently , among other books and cartoon for The New Yorker, I’ve been illustrating historical biographies for the Who Was… series. Presently I’m working on Who Were The Brothers Grimm and Who Was Marie Antoinette.

[Image Credit:’Brien+headshot.jpg ]

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