Interviews

Bear is happy at home, eating strawberry pie and spending time with his friends. But one day, the wind whispers to Bear, calling him to embark on a surprising journey to an unknown place. He isn't sure where he is going, but he knows that everything will turn out okay if he trusts his instincts.

Max's Boat Pick:


BEAR AND THE WHISPER OF THE WIND

By Marianne Dubuc

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (March 1, 2022)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Bear and the Whisper of the Wind?

MD: "I often like to leave my books unexplained so the reader can decide what they want to see in the story. In this particular book I did leave it particularly open to interpretation on purpose. I wrote this book at a time in my life where I had lost important people and where I felt lost, trying to find a way to have faith in life again. I find that everyone doesn’t have the same life experience and that for some it can be upsetting to know my real inspiration. That is why I don’t say too much, and say more or less depending on the person asking.


I have found that for some my story seems to talk about changing school, parents divorcing, or moving away, or other more painful events such as illness, death or having to flee one’s country because of the war. All of these have been suggested as inspiration for the book, and I find they are all perfect. That is why I like to leave my books open to interpretation."


For those who love Bear and the Whisper of the Wind, can you recommend a few other picture books that you think they might also enjoy? "I love L’ours et le chat sauvage by Komako Sakai and Kazumi Yumoto. I don’t believe it has been translated in English and it is a shame because it is lovely. I love Yumoto’s illustrations and the tenderness of the story although it is sad because the bear loses his friend bird. There is also Big Wolf & Little Wolf by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Olivier Tallec which I like a lot. The relationship between Big and Little Wolf, as it develops, always makes me smile. Little Fox by Edward Van de Vandel and Marije Tolman is another book that I love."



Restlessness and the desire for change is certainly a difficult topic to cover--much less in a picture book. Are there any other picture books you love that have explored this theme well? "The Trip to Panama by Janosch, in its own way, talks about looking elsewhere for something missing, to finally realize it was there all along. I love Janosch’s work. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I don’t know if it answers to the restlessness and desire for change, but it does talk about accepting a loved one’s desire (and natural tendency, growing up) for change. Stormy Night by Michèle Lemieux, where a little girl goes through a stormy night and goes through all kinds of questioning."




I'm curious how your writing process works. Do you translate your own books from French into English? Do you think there is a layer gained (or lost) in doing so? "I do write my books in French, but I do not translate them myself. The publisher who buys the rights hires translators to do so. It is fun to see how my books are interpreted by translators, and how, depending on the country, the story will be affected. One thing I learned with the translation of my books is the importance of verb tense. I had never paid attention to this in picture books before, but in French it happens very often that the story will be told in the present tense. I had never noticed that in English, they are usually in the past tense. It is the case in my book The Lion and The Bird. The French version is in present, while the English versions are in the past tense.


It doesn’t affect the story that much for this book, but in Up the Mountain Path, it does change how we read the story. The main character, Mrs. Badger, is very old and with the text written in the present tense we can assume she is still alive. When in the past tense we immediately assume that she has died. And, as I was working on the book, it was very important to me that she can be both: alive for those who prefer the main character not to have passed away, or deceased, if the reader wants her to be. (This being said, MY Mrs. Badger, the one I wrote about, is, in fact, deceased). Since I speak French, English and Spanish, I can see the difference in these translations of my books. But it is not the case with Japanese, Russian, Italian, Chinese and all the other languages in which my books are translated. I have to have faith in the translator's work, but also accept their interpretation of my story. It is kind of fun to think that my stories are probably slightly different from one country to the next."

What do you think the best picture books do? Is there a book that you think does this particularly well? "I wouldn’t know what book to mention. There are so many reasons why a picture book works and why children (and their parents) love to read them. One thing I love about a book is when, at the end of a reading, I close it and still have an emotion that lingers. It doesn’t matter if I can’t explain this particular emotion, it is even better when it happens. I love simple books that talk about small things, small moments. And I love when I can have fun with a book, when I have space as a reader to interpret, to explore."


What did you love reading to your kids when they were 3? When they were 5? "We used to read four books each night to our son and daughter. These were very important moments in our daily routine, and I enjoyed it a lot, even though I was exhausted and had to go finish my own books once they were asleep. I wrote all my books at night for a long time, when the kids were young. They are older now, but I still like to work at night.


We started reading to them when they were three months old, and I don’t think there was a huge difference between the books we read at three or at five years old. When our son was five his sister was three, so… it was all the same. We did read pictures book for a loooong time to our daughter. Even when she was eight, and was reading Harry Potter on her own, she liked to pick picture books for us to read together.


My husband and I, both being authors and illustrators, already had tons of children’s books before we even had kids. So we had a pretty big library to chose from for nighttime stories. We read a lot of books from L’École des loisirs, so mainly French authors, but also a few American ones.

Some of my favorites were The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd, and Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. I tried translating Dr. Seuss in French, but it was giving me a headache. Another author we read a lot was Anthony Browne (especially Gorilla and Voices in the Park).


Here are a few of our family favorites:

La visite de Petite Mort by Kitty Crowther. I love Kitty's books. And this book is on my top 10 of all time.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis. So much fun reading this with the kids. :)

La famille foulque by Anne Brouillard. Sadly not translated in English I think, but one of my favorite wordless picture books ever, and since there are no words it can be read in any language… :)


Flix by Tomi Ungerer. We love Tomi Ungerer at home and we've read this book SOOOO many times.

Petit panda et le tigre volant by Renata Liwska. Another major hit at home. I love Renata’s illustrations, too.

Il faut sauver le petit chat! by Chihiro Nakagawa and Junji Koyose was a MAJOR hit with the whole family.

A Place to Call Home by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz. What fun we had reading this book. We still laugh every time.


All Around Bustletown: Summer by Rotraut Susanne Berner. We have loved reading and talking while discovering the five books by Susan Rotraut Berner. I also love her work as an illustrator.

Ice by Arthur Geisert. I love wordless picture books and all of Arthur Geisert’s books were (and are still) loved at home.




Cars and Trucks and Things that Go by Richard Scarry. I don’t know how many times I read this book to our son, while pregnant with our daughter. He wasn’t allowed to watch tv back then and woke up at 4 a.m. every single day for three months straight. I read this book every morning, half awake and with morning sickness. Still, I have very fond memories of those moments, so thank you, Mr. Scarry!










Blaise et le Chateau D’Anne Hiversère by Claude Ponti. Probably as untranslatable as Dr. Seuss. Ponti’s books are always crazy with ideas and words that seem to come out of a magic hat. We read this book hundreds of times and still love it. We have the huge format version and we love getting lost in the pages and the illustrations. And having fun with his invented words.

The Tiger Prince by Chen Jiang Hong was our daughter's favorite book growing up.


I could keep going on for ages so I will stop here, knowing that I forgot many of our all time favorites. ;)"


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

"That is a hard question. I don’t like to make top 10 lists, or choose favorites. I like books for different reasons. But one thing I learned with my children is to never judge a book by its cover. Literally. How many times did they pick a book at random at the library and I started reading reluctantly (I didn’t like the kind of illustration and NEVER would have picked this book myself) only to realize that this book was AMAZING. My children broadened my taste in children’s literature, and I am very grateful for this. It does not really answer your question, though! ;) You can see the picture books I mentioned in the previous question. They would definitely make it in my personal list."


What picture books coming out this year are you most looking forward to reading?

"I have NO idea what picture books are coming out this year! But I like to go the bookstore and see what is new once in a while. Even though our children are older now, and read on their own, I still love picture books."

One, Two, Kat, and Four are starting a club, and every member is good at something! Except naming clubs. If only there were some kind of sign about what their club should be called!

Max's Boat Pick:


IT'S A SIGN!

By Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children (May 10, 2022)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind It's a Sign!

"It's a Sign! started with an email from Mo Willems and his editor Tracey Keevan. They reached out to us with an invitation to make the ninth book in the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series. We were stunned and thrilled and honored and nervous and all the feelings you can imagine you’d feel if the Mo Willems reached out to you and asked you to make a book with him.


After we got over the initial shock of it all, we started thinking over what this book would be about. We learned we’d be the first duo to make an Elephant & Piggie Like Reading book, so we leaned into that and decided we’d make a book that explores collaboration. When we thought about what 'collaboration' meant to us as kids, our heads went straight to clubs. And it wasn’t long after that that we ended up with a book about a club of foxes where everyone is welcome, individuality is celebrated, and the first order of club business is making a club sign that everyone contributes to. Even if they don’t all realize it. :)"



What's your favorite in the series—besides your own, of course—and why?


Jarrett: "I have two favorites: We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller and The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat. Because those two launched the series and they’re both hilarious and so very smart."


Jerome: My favorite is What About Worms!? by Ryan T. Higgins. I love how even though it’s a beginning reader, it also has smart visual elements that are funny. Kind of like a picture book."



Are there any illustrators you admire for their unique style?


"Yes! In no particular order (and by no means exhaustive): Christian Robinson, Shawn Harris, Oge Mora, Sydney Smith, Sophie Blackall, Elisha Cooper, Jon Klassen, Carson Ellis, Eric Rohmann, Kadir Nelson, Mo Willems, Matthew Forsythe, Dan Santat, Alice Provensen, Oliver Jeffers, Jan Balet, Edward Bawden, Chris Haughton, the Fan Brothers. You see any of their work and you know it’s theirs."






You collaborated and published your first picture book together when you were teenagers (!) What were the picture books that inspired you then? What are the picture books that inspire you now? Have there been any constants?


"That was so long ago! It’s hard to say what was inspiring us way back then, but some definite constants have been The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall."


Updated: May 25

It's cleaning day, but the family cat will do anything to avoid getting a bath. So instead of mopping the floor or feeding the fish, the family is soon busy rocking the rug, vacuuming the lawn, and sweeping the dishes.

Max's Boat Pick:


BATHE THE CAT

Written by Alice B. McGinty and illustrated by David Roberts

Publisher: Chronicle Books (February 8, 2022)

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You've written so many picture books on such a vast array of topics. Can you tell me the origin story behind Bathe the Cat? Such a simple idea, but such mischievous fun! ABM: "Thank you so much for inviting me here! It’s an honor to be interviewed and I’m excited to share with you! As to the origin of Bathe the Cat, I’d always wanted to write a funny book -- one that would make kids (and hopefully adults) laugh out loud. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to write something that funny. Most of my books are pretty serious. Others, like Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons might bring a chuckle, but they aren’t going to send anyone into hysterics.


Then, in November, 2013, I attended a writing conference and heard editor Melissa Manlove from Chronicle speak about breaking rules to create humor in picture books. I was inspired by her presentation and came home yearning to find a way to break some rules.


Still, no ideas presented themselves -- until the next morning. Completely by accident.


I was tired and coming down with a cold. As I padded around the house, I began to head upstairs to

brush my teeth. Because I knew I’d instantly forget why I was going up there, I began reciting 'brush

your teeth,' as I headed up. Then, realizing I also had to blow my nose, I added that to the refrain:

'brush your teeth, blow your nose.' On I went, until near the top of the stairs, I stopped. My refrain had

changed. I’d just said, 'Brush your nose. Blow your teeth.'


Right then, I knew exactly how I was going to break the rules to make humor. Over the next several days

I created the story that would become the book Bathe the Cat: a family needing to clean house. A list of

chores on the fridge. And last on the list, 'Bathe the cat.' When the cat mixes up the chores to get out

of being bathed, that’s when the fun begins: from feeding the dishes to scrubbing the fish…to mowing

the cat (but not really!)."


For those who love Bathe the Cat, can you recommend another picture book that you think they might also enjoy? "I will tell you a secret! I have recently written a companion book to Bathe the Cat and am hoping that the sales are strong enough for Bathe the Cat to entice the publisher to be interested in publishing it! I think it’s even funnier than Bathe the Cat and would love to see it out there in the world one day!"


I'm curious how the pairing with David Roberts as illustrator came about? When did you first see the illustrations and what was your initial reaction? "I knew when I was done writing the story that I wanted to submit it to Melissa Manlove at Chronicle, since her conference session had inspired the book. And she acquired it! It took quite some time for Chronicle to find an illustrator, but I was thrilled when David Roberts (Questioneers series) said yes. I love his work! And I knew when he wrote a note saying I’d written a 'corker' that he had a good connection with the text.


When I first saw David’s character sketches my initial reaction was surprise in seeing the family with the two dads. I’d imagined a family with a mom and dad when I wrote the story, but I was good with his interpretation and I welcomed the warm, diverse family he created.

I see the process of an author and illustrator combining to create a book as 1 + 1 = 3. When we both put

our full hearts into our work, creating from the essence of who we are, we end up with something much

more than the combination of the writing and illustrations. I think that’s what happened here and I hope

the book touches many people in many ways."


How amazing that you have a picture book review column! What are some recent picture books that you've really enjoyed? "Oh, there are SO many! I only review books that I love and I see that you love some of the same ones as well (I saw them on your site). These include, Have You Ever Seen a Flower (it captures a true sense of wonder about nature), Nigel and the Moon (the writing is direct and lovely and it captures a child’s sense of longing to share who he truly is inside), and Watercress (a beautifully crafted, deep story that introduces the world to a multicultural family). I will have to read the other books featured on your site. You have great taste!"



You teach writing classes and workshops. Are there certain authors that you have your students study as "masters of the craft"? Or are there certain titles you use to teach particular elements of writing? "Yes! Every year we focus on a different element of writing and use a mentor text to help us learn. Last year we focused on world-building and used two of Kat Falls’ books as mentors. We had a great opportunity for the campers do a Zoom Q&A with Kat at the end of each session. This summer we’ll be focusing on emotional journeys. Our two mentor texts are Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley for

the older campers and When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller for the younger campers. I’m looking forward to going in depth with my campers using these two awesome books!"






Your sons are all grown up now, but do you remember what you loved reading to them

when they were little? "We read a lot together when they were young. Some of their favorites were Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham (which my older son decided to read by himself when he was 3), Susan Meddaugh’s Martha Speaks, and poems by Mary Ann Hoberman, one of which we read as we twirled around on a chair together. Later, it was all about Harry Potter, which I read to them until they graduated from high school and left home!"









Do you have a favorite bookstore, and why do you love it? "I have lots of beloved bookstores, including Anderson’s Bookshop and The Book Stall in the Chicago area. But I think my all-time favorite is a small bookstore in Bayonne, NJ, called The Little Boho Bookshop. Alan (my partner and coauthor of The Sea Knows) and I stopped by there in July, 2020 when we did our 'March to the Sea' to promote our book (yes, in the midst of the pandemic). The owner was so warm and welcoming, and we could feel how this store, fairly new, was truly beloved by the community. It was inspiring!"