Interviews

Once, there was a pig who admired birds. But he could never join them. Or could he? Thus begins the journey of a pig with big dreams, and the perseverance to make them come true.

Pick by Kate Hoefler, Rabbit and the Motorbike:


THE DREAMER

By Il Sung Na

Publisher: Chronicle Books (September 11, 2018)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind The Dreamer

"When I first developed this story, it was in an alphabet book format. I always wanted to make my own alphabet book, and not just a simple one but one with a story or a unique format. I had a story idea about a pig who admired birds even before I collected any words. Then the letter 'A' would be for 'admire.' Then 'begin,' 'crave,' 'determine,' 'fail,' 'gather'…etc. I wanted to share my journey as an author and illustrator of children’s picture books. I dreamed about making my own picture books when I was a student and I've followed the dream since then.


This was a totally different process but it worked out pretty well. After I made a dummy, I met Ariel Richardson from Chronicle Books and we decided to make this book with more narrative. We both agreed that pictures can tell more stories than words for this book."

Are there other picture books you love about characters following their dreams? "Even though this story is about my journey to follow my dream, when I developed The Dreamer, I watched documentary films about Steve Jobs and Walt Disney and researched about the Wright brothers. I thought these stories were so inspirational and helped me to shape my story.


These are the books I love:

Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann

Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera and Lauren Castillo

The Journey by Francesca Sanna






What do you think the best picture books do? "Good picture books inspire the reader. They take us on a journey and share emotions. They make us smile and cry; they make us happy, sad and surprised. It can be a completely new experience or it can be something we already experienced. But good picture books make us follow the main character and complete a journey together.


Some books I love:

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

Pool by Jihyeon Lee

The Man by Raymond Briggs

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Slow Loris by Alexis Deacon

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Wave by Suzy Lee

Clown by Quentin Blake

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "There are so many! Everything I mentioned above and I have a long list that is included with old and new books. It may be impossible to list down all picture books I love and it is not fair to do, I guess.


If I may share some of them (not all), then they are below (in no particular order):


The Long Island by Drew Beckmeyer

Wolves by Emily Gravett

The Day I Became a Bird by Ingrid Chabbert and Raúl Nieto Guridi

The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

Waterloo Trafalgar by Olivier Tallec

Don’t Cross the Line! by Isabel Minhós Martins and Bernardo P. Carvalho

A World of Your Own by Laura Carlin

The Onion’s Great Escape by Sara Fanelli

Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary by Charles Keeping

The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, Valerio Vidali and Violeta Lopiz

The Circus in the Mist by Bruno Munari

My Heart by Corinna Luyken

The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol

Granpa by John Birmingham

And I can go on and on for many more books."










What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I still have many books that I need to catch up on from last year. Here are a few books that I would like to check out which are published in 2021 and 2020:


Maya’s Big Scene by Isabelle Arsenault

Dream of Becoming Water by Suzy Lee (probably only available in Korea)

The Alpactory by Ruth Chan

I am so looking forward to checking all the other books coming out soon this year!"



Africa’s grandmother was a double Dutch legend, and Africa knows she can become the same. Her brother scoffs when she signs up for a double Dutch competition, though—how can she hope to compete when she’s never done it before?

Max's Boat Pick:


FLY

Written by Brittany J. Thurman and illustrated by Anna Cunha

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (January 11, 2022)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind FLY? 

"Fly began as a poem. There have been many moments society pressured and crushed my sense of self. Some of those moments came from lack of representation in media. Books, magazines, movies, advertisements. They all send a message. One day while on my lunch break, I wrote a poem in the hope

to break the bubble holding in these misconceptions. I wanted to counter the negative self-image I held

during my childhood. I wanted others to know, see and understand their worth as well. From the poem

came many revisions, rejections, reflection and ultimately results. The poem, You Girl, transformed into

Fly."

Are there other books you love with strong, confident girl characters? "Yes! I could not have written Fly without being inspired by a multitude of books featuring confident girls. Under My Hijab by Hena Khan and Aaliya Jaleel is a beautiful story featuring a young, confident girl who admires the ways in which the women around her wear their hijab. What If... by Samantha Berger and Mike Curato is a story of wonder and inspiration that shows a young girl confidently following her passions. The Me I Choose to Be by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and Regis and Kahran Bethencourt shows real photographs of children and all the capabilities that exist within them."

Fly seems as much a celebration of the belief in oneself, as well as a celebration of community. Are there other picture books you love for their sense of community? "When I think of community picture books, Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Rafael López always rings in my mind. I’m reminded of the vibrancy, then I’m reminded of Mira and the neighbors, and their tremendous story that changes their gray community into a colorful oasis. Another community picture book that I love is Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor and Rafael López.


In Just Ask, children, and adults of different abilities from around the world celebrate the attributes that make themselves just who they are. In the story it is emphasized that it is more than ok to ask questions; this is how we embrace and get to know our communities."


Your bio mentions you've read to thousands of children. I'm curious in what context? "After graduate school, I began working within the early literacy community in the city I was living at the time, Pittsburgh, PA. For several years, I led baby, toddler and preschool story times programs with corresponding activities. Whether it was at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh or the Carnegie Library, or with Reading is Fundamental and several smaller non-profits, I remember the smiles, excitement, and joy from children ready to hear a good story.


I say thousands of children because I truly do not know the exact number. But I do know there were a lot of tiny fingers helping me turn pages, book after book. At the Carnegie Library, I led outreach visits to daycares, child development centers and schools. Many of the schools I visited did not have Black children or Black educators. It was important for me to share the stories that truthfully reflect our world, just as it is vital for me to write the books that reflect my truth. I hope that my visits left an impact on the kids and educators.




Each week, a lamb puppet accompanied me to each visit. Once there, we sang songs, played games and read a handful of picture books. I still have that lamb puppet today to remind me that a child is already eager for a story."


What were some of your favorite picture books to read aloud? "This is the question of all questions! I have so many favorites and I wish I could list them all! Many of the books I like to read aloud have a musical quality or give ‘the feels’ after the first read! Play This Book by Jessica Young and Daniel Wiseman is like being in a band between the pages!


All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman is a lyrical story of inclusion. Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora is probably my top favorite. I love the theme of community and giving of oneself without asking for anything in return."


Fly is your debut picture book. Was there a single picture book that made you want

to pursue picture book writing? "I am always reflecting on Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. While I began writing long before I was introduced to Each Kindness, the story, characters, themes, and words kept me on the pursuit to write my own. While picture books are intended for children, they are also for teens, adults, our older generations. We can all benefit from the stories, images, and messages within.

Each Kindness is one of those books that showcases everyday values in an extraordinary way. When I think of Each Kindness, the same emotions I had on the first read still settle in my soul. That’s powerful."


What do you think the best picture books do? Is there a book that you think does this particularly well? "If I were to sum up one thing the best picture books do, I say it is that they transform. But this one aspect of picture books has a few different meanings. Picture books transform the reader as they traverse the story. You are taken on a short, but eventful journey. The characters are transformed from their original status to something ‘new’. (To be honest isn’t this every book?!) BUT, picture books also transform the aura of the reader. Through heartfelt moments, picture books tap into our inner most struggles, desires, wants and dreams, leaving

us with a feeling that I can only describe as 'the tingles.' Don’t we want to give picture books a hug once we’ve finished? Then, we’re ready to pick them up all over again to have the same experience."


What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future? "Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry and Vashti Harrison, Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos and Jacqueline Alcántara, and Your Name is a Song by Jamila Thompkins-Bigelow are all books with timeless, classic qualities. Kids for generations will pick up these stories, see themselves and want to share the story with those they love."


What's on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "I think this book is on everyone’s list and it is always at the top of mine. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I used to read this story to preschoolers each winter. I made felt pieces to accompany the characters and setting. Once we finished reading, we would retell the story through the felt pieces. Peter is a timeless character that so many can relate to today. Just as it was vastly important for Black kids to seem themselves in books as children full of joy when The Snowy Day came out in 1962, it is equally important for that same joyful representation today. Go Peter!"

What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading?

"So many! Can I say all of them?! But here are a few of the ones I can wait to get my hands on!


Francis Discovers Possible by Ashlee Latimer and Shahrzad Maydani

Show the World by Angela Dalton and Daria Peoples

American Desi by Jyoti Rajan Gopal and Supriya Kelkar"

In this reimagined Scheherazade tale, story-loving, scooter-riding Shahrzad meets a boy who recounts fleeing from his home, where the king has grown angry and cruel. Shahrzad imagines herself zooming off in her toy airplane to confront the king. She tells him story after story, making him reflect on the kind of leader he really wants to be. We live and die by the sword? Not exactly, says Shahrzad. We live or die by the stories we tell and how we see, frame, and word the world.

Max's Boat Pick:


SHAHRZAD & THE ANGRY KING

By Nahid Kazemi

Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books (January 11, 2022)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Shahrzad and the Angry King?

NK: "I have always wanted to turn one of the stories of One Thousand and One Nights into a book. When I came to Canada, I started reading the book more carefully and I realized that behind all the stories of the One Thousand and One Nights lies the story of a woman who saved a city from death and healed the king through the power of storytelling, tact, wisdom and love that she injected into stories. The idea for my story originates from here. I rewrote this story dozens of times. After a while, I thought about what stories Shahrzad might have told the children if she had lived in this era. Then the character of the little girl in my story formed in my mind. Someone who looks like today's children with a simple appearance and is interested in hearing other people's stories. In the end, with the power of storytelling, wisdom and patience she also heals the king."


Are there any other picture books you love that are a modern reimagining of an old or classic tale? "The Prince and the Porker, by Peter Bently and David Roberts, is a reimagining of Mark Twain’s classic The Prince and the Pauper.

Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler"












What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?

"The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, Valerio Vidali and Violeta Lopiz

The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin

The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The Little Flower King by Kveta Pacovská

The Sun is Yellow by Kveta Pacovská"