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Interview with Tyler Charlton, Debut Picture Book Author and Illustrator, THE WAVE (Roaring Brook Press)

By Julie Damerell

Tyler Charlton is an illustrator and children’s book author living in northern Virginia with his wife and three children. He is a native of Southern California and grew up near the beach where he played in actual, real waves. That experience gave him a way to think about the dark and foreboding metaphorical waves, which led to this book. A veteran of the US Army infantry (1994-98), a former editor in history publishing, and, for the past few years, a homeschool dad, he is making his debut as a picture book author and illustrator with THE WAVE. You can find out more about Tyler on his website and on Instagram.

Written and illustrated by Tyler Charlton
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
Publication Date: August 1, 2023
For ages 4-8 | ISBN: 9781250842039

More info on THE WAVE here

“Helpful insights for children dealing with depression and those who care about them.Kirkus Reviews


When a boy is swept up in a wave of sadness, he finds himself tumbling. But when he remembers that this sadness won’t last forever, and that the wave will eventually carry him back to shore, he discovers his friends and family waiting to gently pull him out of the water and back home.  With hopeful text and gorgeous art, THE WAVE takes us on a journey through one child’s experience with depression that fosters empathy for those on the outside, and solidarity for those still caught in the midst of their own wave. It is an honest look at depression which affects almost 2 million children in the United States. 

THE WAVE is a must-read for anyone who finds themselves tumbling, and a beautiful reminder that we can reach out to others to keep our heads – and hearts – above water.

Preorder THE WAVE from wherever you buy books. Signed copies will be available at Tyler’s local independent bookstore, Scrawl Books after his August 5 event. If you order before August 5 and would like a personalized copy, please include a note with your order.

Q: How was THE WAVE created?

A: THE WAVE is about a boy being swept away by his own metaphorical wave of depression or sadness. This is something I had struggled with my whole life and during the last ten years when I had been struggling with some personal trauma. I had begun to recognize these feelings and I realized not only that it didn’t last but I found ways to cope with it and I found ways to shorten these moments. It was in this initial discovery that I made a connection to being stuck in an actual wave when I used to play in the ocean as a child and bodyboard and bodysurf. It’s that feeling of tumbling underwater and having no control–unable to breathe and waiting to surface. 

I think visually. So, I drew a little sketch of a boy tumbling in a wave and looking at the viewer as though he and I agreed that he was tumbling and there’s nothing we could do until it’s over. Just hold on, take care of yourself, and wait. This little sketch in my Moleskine sketchbook turned into a single-panel illustration for myself. 

At this point in my career I had been unsatisfied as an editorial illustrator and a few months earlier I had decided to venture into children’s illustration to find my artistic voice. I just joined SCBWI and went to my regional (mid-Atlantic) conference. Because that was so much fun I decided to take my humble children’s illustration portfolio to the SCBWI winter conference in New York in February 2020. I used my boy in the Wave illustration for my postcard.

That postcard caught the attention of an agent and I signed with Carrie Hannigan of HG Literary. I had an idea for making a story based on that image and she worked with me to craft a manuscript for it…based on LOTS of journaling. Journaling is how I immerse myself in ideas and stories. And Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press acquired it. It was a joy and a pleasure to work with Emily and the team at Roaring Brook and the final product is beautiful and all that I had hoped it to be.

THE WAVE is my first book as either an illustrator or an author and I got to be both! I was learning something new about the process all the time. There’s a lot packed into that previous sentence…more than I have space to share. It involves timing and balancing the editorial and the visual. At one point in the editing process the whole story seemed to become a tangled knot and I couldn’t see how we were going to find our way out. Emily and Emilia Sowersby (assistant editor) confidently untangled it and smoothed it out.

Regarding the illustration process, I did not expect to have so much freedom with the illustrations. Coming from editorial illustration I kept waiting for an art director to step in and lead me. Instead, we had conversations about composition and design choices and then I was free to be me. Mina Chung was the book designer and Mina crafted a beautifully designed book. It’s such a joy and pleasure to finally hold the fruits of our labor.

I never had so much fun creating and I loved working with Roaring Brook. They always stressed that this is my book…but it was such a wonderful team effort.  

Q: What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?

A: As a child Michelle Magorian’s GOOD NIGHT, MR. TOM really resonated with me. I didn’t feel alone and I was able to identify some of the issues I was dealing with as a child…issues the main character Willie was dealing with. I think that’s the thing about books that wrestle with mental health issues. It wasn’t as fun as reading TINTIN but it was important to me and kept me company–it stayed with me into adulthood and I still reflect on it. My hope is that THE WAVE will help children (and the grown-ups who read to them) to recognize those moments when they might be in their own waves of sadness or depression (or witness it in someone else) and give them a framework to understand the process and a way to talk about it if they choose. Further, I hope they carry this concept with them into adulthood because it can be a life-long struggle. In fact, pre-publication, I used the proofs/spreads in my own family during a crisis and it was hugely successful. It was a heartfelt relief and joy for me to see the book actually work as I had hoped and also to have given a new tool for my own children.

Q: What advice do you have for young creators?

A: The advice I have is the advice I would give myself. And still do! 

You are on your own journey and it’s not a straight shot. Much like your art, the end is not always what you expect. The lows are low, the highs are high, and the lows happen more often than the highs. Even when I’m in a high I still find space to feel low.

For my illustrator friends: Keep drawing AND journaling even if you’re “just” an illustrator. Do both. You have stories to tell and ideas to explore. Dig deep.

Finding your voice takes time, patience, and work. It took me about 15 years. Immerse yourself in your childhood favorites. There are amazing contemporary artists but look to your childhood to find your visual voice and blend it with what you find amazing today.

And my new favorite piece of advice to myself: If I’m not having fun and pleasing myself with my art, I’m not doing it right. Stop and figure out why it’s not pleasing. My favorite and best work comes from the joy of creating. Let this be your guide.

It can take many repetitions and some experience with it before the advice you pick up actually sinks in.

Q: What are you excited about right now?

A: I’m excited about all my new friendships and relationships in children’s publishing. I’m excited about growing as both an illustrator AND a writer. I’m excited about my new role as “author.” And I’m excited about storytelling. I’m working on a new idea right now and I’m working on my writing process…I find that pretty exciting.

Also see other Interviews with Book Creators and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators.

4 thoughts on “Interview with Tyler Charlton, Debut Picture Book Author and Illustrator, THE WAVE (Roaring Brook Press)”

  1. Andrea Mack says:

    Love this interview! Looking forward to read this book.

  2. Gregory Charlton says:

    Tyler was always a deep pool. Introspective. Humorous. Courageous. It is a pleasure being his father

  3. John Nez says:

    Amazing book, amazing story, amazing artwork!

    Thanks for sharing it all in this interview…

  4. Eileen Ladino says:

    I pre-ordered the book and look forward to receiving it. Such a needed book to facilitate conversations between children struggling with these waves and their parents. Thank you, Tyler, for providing this catalyst for families.

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