HAUTE SPOTreading is fundamental at this author’s house
Billy Baldwin’s library is a magical place. Stepping into the room at his Sag Harbor home is like stepping into a world of wonder. Filled with favorite books and cherished possessions, it’s more than a place to read and think—it’s the entryway into the imagination.
Painted a deep red and lined with wooden shelving, the cozy den of a room is the perfect place to think, says the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award-winning author.
“I like the small, intimate space,” he says. “It’s more creative … like a little nook.”
Alternatively climbing the wooden library ladder to fetch prized possessions and taking a seat atop a giant stuffed tan-and-white dog-shaped beanbag, the children’s book author shared some of his most treasured tomes and discussed his journey into book making. There’s a lot to share here, he acknowledges.
Reading was a bit of a struggle for Baldwin as a boy, he says. But growing up dyslexic didn’t quash his love for books, he reports. But it did give him a unique perspective.
“I don’t necessarily find the written word to always be an attractive thing, but the illustrations … oh they can be beautiful,” he says. “I love visuals, and I see things in animation. Which is where my dyslexia gives me an advantage over you,” he adds, laughing, as he explains how his mind works. “I’ve always looked at things a little bit differently.”
When he was 10, the budding author wrote out what would be his first attempt at a book. It was an illustrated alphabet, with one letter to a page.
“Those letters really came to life for me,” he says. “I was obsessed.”
Baldwin’s first formal book was made for his father, Dave. Titled “18 Holes With My Dad,” the pen-and-ink illustrated short story was created as an homage to a loving parent who taught him about life.
“Some of the best times that I ever had were playing eighteen, alone with my dad. Walking the fairway, dad taught me to play. Guiding my hand so I’d learn the right way,” reads the introduction. “But dad passed on more than the rules of the game. ‘Golf and life,’ he would say, ‘they are one and the same.’”
Other books followed, as custom gifts and keepsakes for family and friends. He wrote “Davy the Tinker” for his brother, Dave, another for his brother, Ted, one for his cousin, Shelby, and several more. Eventually, he decided it was time to turn his hobby into something he could share with a wider audience. Some of those full color picture books, which he created with illustrator Liesl Bell, include “The Last Leaf,” which earned him a 2017 Silver Medal from Moonbeam, “The Cookie That Saved Christmas” and “Wipeout the Wave.”
Though he has great affection and humble pride for his own creations, Baldwin is in reverent awe of the iconic authors and illustrators who helped stoke the flames of his passion for storytelling. Among them, Charles Dickens (he’s got bound first- and early editions); Hank Ketcham (a signed “Dennis the Menace”); Norman Rockwell (oversized early Time Life books); Dr. Seuss (an in-progress, a blad from “The Cat in the Hat”); Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda (a treasured pop-up “Encyclopedia Mythologica”); and cartoonists Bill Waterson, Gary Larson and Don Martin (special editions of “Calvin and Hobbes,” “The Far Side” and books by the Mad magazine illustrator); to name a select few.
“I’m fascinated with their work, and also their personal origin stories,” he says. “I’m always curious about where someone got their passion, how did they start, how did they translate it into art,”
As awestruck as he is by their talents, Baldwin doesn’t handle his heroes’ work with kid gloves, as collectors might.
“I don’t like untouchable books. I like the ones that have been read, used, loved,” he says. “There’s an energy in the words, in the books, and that energy comes to life when you open them up.”