Vesper Stamper What The Night Sings
Vesper Stamper: The Possibilities Within Audiobooks

We illustrators enter the field because we want to engage many different kinds of people with our art and communicate big ideas in innovative ways. Ours is a mass medium by design. That’s why we’ve seen so many illustrated works find their way into lush Hollywood screen adaptations—Brian Selznick’s books, or the Marvel comics movies, for example.

Novel writing is a newish medium for me, though, and I didn’t necessarily envision my book, What The Night Sings , being interpreted as more than an illustrated novel. I made the words. I made the pictures. I was satisfied. What else was there?

When I was finishing up the illustrations for What the Night Sings, I listened to the audio adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, read by Claire Danes. The audiobook incorporated music in its chapter openers in an incredibly innovative way. Music that would have been banned in Gilead, the book’s dystopian new order, was interspersed with Offred’s testimony as though the audiobook itself was a mix tape—a time capsule of her experience—opening the window for the “future” listener on what life was like…before. The audiobook itself thus became integral to the story.

When I learned that What the Night Sings would be made into an audiobook, I wanted to take advantage of the format on its own terms. I saw an opportunity to bring out a part of the book that was important for the reader’s engagement: the music that kept Gerta alive through the Holocaust. I had created a Spotify playlist to accompany the reader’s experience, but I wanted to go further.

So I asked pianist John McArthur and violist Yumi Oshima to contribute music for the chapter openers. I was able to be in studio for their performances, and to give them specific direction from the characters’ points of view. John McArthur dug especially deep into the characters, bringing in several interpretive possibilities, even to simple piano pieces like Schumann’s Kinderszenen. Yumi played some of Gerta’s repertoire on a Baroque viola, which drove home the comparison of the viola to the human voice.

I was also able to be part of the audition process for the narrator of What the Night Sings. Whoever we chose would have to be a rare unicorn (and yes, we did use that word when searching): a young-sounding actor, with the ability to create different character voices, read in several languages (German, Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, French), and sing Mahler and Bach competently—but also with the raw quality of a young teen, one whose suffering came through in the singing. We found our mythical creature in Deb Grausman.

Multidisciplinary and collaborative art-making has always been part of my career as an illustrator, writer, and musician. (Heck, I even danced and acted—badly—through my teens.) Projects like this are a dream come true, when not only can you see your vision come to life from a different angle, but do it with such enjoyable, talented people along the way.

Listen to a clip from Vesper Stamper‘s debut audiobook, WHAT THE NIGHT SINGS: