Chris Denise’s commute to work is 15 feet. His jazz-filled artist studio stands in a building on his own property. It allows Chris to keep a rigorous schedule, be part of the day-to-day raising of his daughters and check in with his life-partner and children’s book partner, Anika.
Anika, 41, is the pen. Chris, 46, is the brush. Together, the Denises have collaborated on three picture books, including their latest, Baking Day at Grandma’s, released in August. The working couple will be at Frog and Toad on September 27 to launch a book party for their latest marriage in print, an extension of their marvelous family union.
So far, the Barrington-based Denises have produced three distinctive daughters and three distinctive books – Pigs Love Potatoes, a bouncy, rhyming counting book starring Mama and Papa Piggy and their nine piglets; Bella and Stella Come Home, about a little girl who moves to a new house and isn’t quite sure she likes it at first; and Baking Day at Grandma’s.
Chris has illustrated a total of 21 children’s books and several more for the educational market. Anika generally comes up with the concept and drafts it. Chris designs the characters and creates the illustrations. She often writes with his illustration style in mind.
“After I have the look and feel down, I begin to pace it out, see where the natural page breaks are, and cre- ate a book dummy. If it’s one of Anika’s books, then I show her the dummy first, get her thoughts, and then show it to my art director,” he says.
These kids’ books are child’s play. “It was hard to write a good picture book,” Anika says. “My first tries were awful. But then I came up with this idea for a counting book with piggies in the kitchen and the language just came to me. I showed it to Chris and he showed it to his editor at Penguin (without telling me!) She offered me a contract a week later. It was surreal.”
Chris, a RISD art grad, has been doing them in some form for nearly a quarter century. Now, paired veterans, their latest book is an homage to Anika’s own grandmother and her warm childhood baking treats in her kitchen in the mountains of New York – even though Grandma is now a large bear.
“When I wrote it, I didn’t know it would be bears. It could have been guinea pigs! I wrote the piece as a long poem, almost a song, and then showed it to Chris,” says Anika. “He felt like bears would be best for the piece, and our editor agreed.”
Working closely together helps some days and, like any marriage, can be irritating, they add. “We don’t get huffy often, but when we do, it has to do with schedule. Chris is busy, and sometimes other projects take priority over mine, which makes me grumpy,” says Anika. Like a bear.
Chris and Anika Denise Book Signing at Frog and Toad
September 27, 1-3pm
795 Hope Street, Providence. 831-3434
Book Party at Barrington Books
September 6, 2pm
184 County Road, Barrington. 254-7925