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When Baby Sloth tumbles out of a tree, Mama Sloth comes for him — s l o w l y

DOREEN CRONIN: My name is Doreen Cronin, and I am a children's book author and have been for almost 25 years.

BRIAN CRONIN: And I am Brian Cronin. I'm an illustrator, and I've been doing that since the mid-'80s, when I came here from Ireland.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Doreen Cronin and Brian Cronin are not married or related, as far as they know.

D CRONIN: People kind of assume that we're married, or we've been married for a very long time, but we're not. We actually met during the pandemic and found each other - really kind of stumbled across each other - on Facebook because we have the same last name. And each of us were like, who is this? I don't know this other Cronin, really. We decided to meet up. We both live in Brooklyn. And we met on a bench in Prospect Park just to chat.

B CRONIN: It's a relationship.

D CRONIN: Yeah. So we're in it now (laughter).

B CRONIN: Yeah.

D CRONIN: But back then, it was like, oh, we both work in children's books. Let's have a cup of coffee. We both have the same name. And we kind of stumbled on working together. It wasn't a plan.

B CRONIN: No, I wasn't a plan, but I've never - what's the word...

D CRONIN: Collaborated?

B CRONIN: Collaborated - big word - before. So it was - I was a bit apprehensive, but it was magical. I really love it.

D CRONIN: I think the bigger question for us way back when, was, like, we're in a new relationship, should we work together? You know (laughter), that's a big question. And that actually...

B CRONIN: I think it's...

D CRONIN: ...Worked out fine.

B CRONIN: Yeah.

D CRONIN: Yeah.

B CRONIN: I think it's made us stronger, really.

D CRONIN: Yeah.

B CRONIN: And everyone...

D CRONIN: It's a really interesting outcome.

SIMON: After their pandemic meet cute, the Cronin's first picture book together was last year's "Lawrence & Sophia." Their second book is "Mama In The Moon." It's about a baby sloth who falls out of a tree at night and has to wait for his mother to slowly come to get him.

B CRONIN: (Reading) Are you close now, Mama? I'm closer, Baby. I'm close enough to smell the flowers opening for the night. Can you smell them too?

D CRONIN: (Reading) Baby watched the bright petals of the flowers bend and fold. He could smell their sweet perfume.

B CRONIN: (Reading) Mama moves slowly down the tree. Are you close now, Mama? I'm close enough to hear the worms wriggling in the falling leaves. Can you hear them?

D CRONIN: (Reading) I hear them, Mama. Baby listened to the worms wriggle around him.

B CRONIN: (Reading) Mama moves slowly down the tree. Are you close now, Mama? I'm closer, Baby.

SIMON: For our series, Picture This, Doreen and Brian Cronin share the story of how they got the idea for "Mama In The Moon" at breakfast.

D CRONIN: We were at the diner.

B CRONIN: We were at the - I read something about...

D CRONIN: It was a news story. Yeah.

B CRONIN: It was a news story about a sloth who had fallen out of a tree. When we talked about it together, it kind of made a lot of sense that the sloth would be slow to come down to...

D CRONIN: Right. That it would take mom...

B CRONIN: ...To rescue...

D CRONIN: ...A while.

B CRONIN: ...The baby. And it just seemed like the perfect story.

D CRONIN: By the time we left breakfast, I had jotted some things down. And, of course, Brian's already doing sketches.

B CRONIN: The thing about the story is it's - it feels real.

D CRONIN: Yeah.

B CRONIN: It is real. Sloths fall out of a tree once a...

D CRONIN: Yeah, that's...

B CRONIN: ...Week for their whole life.

D CRONIN: Yeah.

B CRONIN: It kind of wrote itself, really.

D CRONIN: Well, we were, like...

B CRONIN: Illustrated itself.

D CRONIN: ...In tears when we were really...

B CRONIN: Yeah.

D CRONIN: ...When we finished it and kind of read it for the first time.

B CRONIN: I was, actually.

D CRONIN: Yeah. I think it was - we're both parents, right?

B CRONIN: Yeah.

D CRONIN: So we kind of know that - well, all parents know this - right? - that feeling of separation from your child and when they're waiting for you to come back or they need your comfort, and you can't always get there, right?

B CRONIN: It's the baby calling out, Mama, where are you?

D CRONIN: Right.

B CRONIN: It's - I guess...

D CRONIN: It's really touching.

B CRONIN: ...To me, anyway.

D CRONIN: But for the mama, I think when Brian did the art, too, I remember being worried that Mama was going to look scared, and she doesn't. Mama always looks like...

B CRONIN: Exactly. Just - yeah...

D CRONIN: ...Completely calm. She's like, it's OK. I'm coming. We're both in the same space. We see the same things. We can hear the same things.

B CRONIN: The baby has all the expressions.

D CRONIN: The baby has all the expressions. And mom - you know, the parent - is constant and reassuring and calm and tender. And it comes through in the art so much that if I look at Mama's face sometimes, even now - and I've seen the art so many times - I can still feel her love and her comfort and her calm.

B CRONIN: I don't have a formula, even though I've been working for, like, 35 years or something. And every time I start something, it's like a kind of a beginning. And I love this book. I love how it turned out, and it's very simple.

I use a 5B pencil to start off with, and just go through a lot of sketches and sketches. And then for this book, I actually used a marker for the trees 'cause I liked the broken line it gave. It wasn't like an exact line. I wanted it to feel like there was a human behind the paint.

And then I use poster paints. I tried them once, and they're like watercolor, but they're forgiving. You can kind of make a mess and then, somehow, magically, you can change it. But it's traditional for the most part. And then the page with the text - some of the text is on the images, but for mostly, it's on the black charcoal kind of page.

D CRONIN: I think that the challenge is - right? - it's a nighttime book. It is very dark. How do you make that feel not scary even though it is dark?

B CRONIN: Well, the moon is always in the piece. And when you have a close-up of the baby, he's like, fluffy, and you can see him, so he's not in the dark. And he's kind of a salmon-y color. The vegetation is all as if it was highlighted by the moon. So when the mother points out all the various things like the moths and the worms and the flowers, they all come to life. So it's not that dark once you get into it, you know.

D CRONIN: And those neons, too - you love working with neons, though...

B CRONIN: Yeah.

D CRONIN: ...In all of your work, going back so many years.

B CRONIN: There's yellows and greens...

D CRONIN: That brightness of it against the...

B CRONIN: Yeah, I think...

D CRONIN: ...Shadows and the night. Yeah, and those bright colors, I think, for a young reader will also draw us to the same thing she's trying to draw his attention to. Like, look at the blue moths, right? Look at the flowers. Look at the worms wriggling. And so that reader is really doing the same thing that the baby is doing, and the bright colors really take us there.

B CRONIN: I think the reason I wanted to do the dark pages was so that it's set - they're in bed and the mommy and daddy or whoever it is reading the book...

D CRONIN: Yeah.

B CRONIN: ...And they're not disturbed by the text or the brightness of anything. And they can just kind of soak it up and then fall asleep.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

B CRONIN: It's fairly relaxing.

D CRONIN: I think so. I think it's comfort, safety, and I think it puts us in kind of a quiet space. And I hope it does out in the world - give us some quiet space, give kids a quiet space.

SIMON: Author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Brian Cronin talking about their latest children's book, "Mama In The Moon." Our series, Picture This, is produced by Samantha Balaban and edited by Melissa Gray.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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