This month, the ReaderKidZ are pleased to introduce James Rumford, this month’s Author-in-Residence and the author/illustrator of FROM THE GOOD MOUNTAIN: How Gutenberg Changed the World. (Find a ReaderKidZ review HERE.)
After I graduated from college, my wife and I joined the Peace Corps and went to Chad and Afghanistan. We were teachers. I suppose that I’d still be a teacher today, had I not met a retired librarian named Harriett Oberhaus, who encouraged me to write and illustrate my first children’s book, The Cloudmakers, back in 1996. Since then I have written and illustrated over twenty books.
Some of the books I have written took me only an hour to write. Others took five years. Some of the pictures that I painted or drew were done in an hour, but others took months. Each book is different. Each book has its own special challenges. Even so, I’d say the hardest thing for me is doing the pictures. It isn’t easy getting the picture I see in my head to “appear” on the paper. Drawing takes a lot of practice.
One of my most recent books is about Johannes Gutenberg, the man who first printed books from pieces of type in the West. It only took me an hour or so to write the story, but it took me two years to draw and paint all of the pictures. I used my computer a lot to help me get the detail that I wanted.
Why did I write about Gutenberg? First he was one of the most influential men of the last one thousand years. He made it possible to mass produce books, and he and the printers and publishers that followed him were responsible for raising the literacy rates in the world. Before him, perhaps only ten per cent of the people knew how to read. Because of his invention and all of the improvements that followed, some countries now have a literacy rate over ninety per cent.
I also wrote the book because I wanted to tell people about a technology that has almost disappeared. Commercial printers don’t print from lead type. The presses they use are high speed and are controlled by computers. Nothing is as it was when Gutenberg printed books in 1450. And now the internet and the computer are making books completely digital.
After I wrote From the Good Mountain, I decided to write a companion guide. The guide is also called From the Good Mountain, but it has a subtitle: A Companion Guide for Adults & Children: How Books Were Made in the Fifteenth Century. It is a book of over 150 pages with all kinds of drawings and diagrams. It is for the very curious who want to know more about Gutenberg’s life and the way books were made in the fifteenth century.
I should say that there are people who still print books the old fashioned way….like me. I have type and I have a printing press. Sometimes I set type and print up a few copies. It is a lot of hard work, but the results are ten times more beautiful to me that anything you can see in a bookstore today. Why? Because the words are pressed into the paper and the book seems to have a three-dimensional quality to it. Here is my printing press, an iron Albion made in Japan in 1900. You can find out more about my press at manoapress.com.
Where I have my printing press is also where I write and paint. My studio was the original garage to the house we live in. I remodeled it a few years ago and gave it nice windows that look out on the yard and the hill behind our house. I love to sit here and think, watch the clouds race by, and marvel at the gentle rain falling like stars in the sunlight.