Interviews

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Pip is a seed from a glorious tree, and Egg is a bird's egg from a nearby nest. When Pip and Egg first meet, they are almost the same size and shape, like two peas in a pod. But as their friendship grows, so do they—for Pip this means growing roots, but for Egg?



Pick by Alice Hemming, The Leaf Thief:


PIP & EGG

Written by Alex Latimer and illustrated by David Litchfield

Publisher: Scholastic (May 6, 2021)

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What inspired you to write Pip & Egg? AL: "There were two parallel thoughts that inspired it - the one being an appreciation for the true friends we meet in life. The kind of friend who, when you haven’t seen them for years - that moment you’re back together, it’s as though no time has passed at all. The other thought was a general fascination with life and animals and plants. I got to thinking about how similar all animals are, really - vertebrates especially, as we share names for all of our bones. But other animals too - we breathe and we sense and we move. And that got me wondering about how similar we are to plants - plants also breathe and sense, but they don’t move. I love this idea of celebrating the similarities AND the differences between us."


Are there other picture books you love for how they explore friendship? "A Friend for Little Bear by Harry Horse is a really beautiful book. Beautifully illustrated, but I love the story, too. It’s a very simple book about a bear who lives on a deserted island and is searching for a cup - all he wants is a cup to pour with. Then items begin to wash ashore on his island, including a friendly wooden horse and Little Bear must decide what is really important to him."



What do you think the best picture books do? "My view on this is changing all the time - but I remember with my first two picture books (The Boy Who Cried Ninja and Lion vs Rabbit) - that some people were concerned that the message was slightly ambiguous. But for me, that was the point. I don’t want a book to tell me what to do. I think good picture books are firstly fun and compelling and engaging - but I love a book that raises a topic and then doesn’t necessarily close the loop. Is lying always bad? Is cheating always bad? These are things for parents and children to discuss. So the best books, for me, create that human connection."




What was your favorite picture book as a child? "The one I remember best is The Wild Baby by Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson. It’s about a baby who is really out of control - but the thread that ties the book together is the mother. She is exhausted and frustrated by the baby, but she is completely loving. As a child those two things really stood out. It’s still one of my favourite covers - the absolute love and devotion of the mother in the centre as she hugs her wriggling baby is perfect."








What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "David Litchfield - illustrator of Pip & Egg - has a book called Lights on Cotton Rock. I hope that it will be a classic one day. The pictures are incredible, as always with David’s work, but I really loved the story. When I first read it, I couldn’t think of another book quite like it. It’s sci-fi for little children and it’s heart warming and it also does that thing I mentioned earlier - where it doesn’t quite close the loop. It’s a story that needs to be discussed."








"Before I end I have to mention Book Dash. Book Dash is a non-profit that creates and distributes quality picture books for free here in South Africa. All of their books are open-license and can be translated or used in any way throughout the world. Access to books in South Africa is very limited and so this is such an amazing initiative."

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

It's the first day of school at Frederick Douglass Elementary and everyone's just a little bit nervous, especially the school itself. What will the children do once they come? Will they like the school? Will they be nice to him?



Pick by Chris Van Dusen, The Circus Ship and Eva Montanari, What Does Little Crocodile Say?:


SCHOOL'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

Written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (June 28, 2016)

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What inspired you to write School's First Day of School? AR: "It’s such a dumb origin story. But I think it’s instructive in the sense that it shows how ideas can come from just about anywhere. To me the question is never 'where do you get ideas?' but rather, 'how are you going to train yourself to notice when they come?'

So. I was hanging out with a large group of people who write and illustrate picture books, and conversation turned to some of the big clichés of the format. Learning to Share, Being Jealous of the New Baby, or what have you. So of course someone mentioned, A Child Is Nervous About His First Day of School, which made me feel weird because I was at that time in the midst of illustrating just such a book, Chu’s First Day of School. But my brain has a habit of reversing things. I’m always spoonerizing phrases to see if the result is funny. Flock of Bats turning into Block of Flats, or whatever. It’s a reflex. My brain also reflexively transposes whole words sometimes, so that evening when I heard 'A Child Is Nervous About His First Day of School' I changed it to 'A School Is Nervous About His First Day of Children.' I whispered it as a joke to a friend sitting next to me, and that’s as far as it could have gone. But I kept toying with it in my mind, wondering if there was something there. So the next day I mentioned it to my agent, and he said something like, 'That’s your next book. I can sell that in fifteen minutes.' I sat down to see if I could write it, and it came out almost verbatim to what we published a couple years later. Picture book manuscripts don’t usually come that easy."

Do you have any other favorite picture books that play with perspective? "Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis has kind of a different shift in perspective. It’s a beautiful little story about a few days in the life of some bugs. And it’s told largely through pictures, but also through dialogue presented entirely in an invented bug language. There’s no prose narration, and no recognizable words at all. But the magic of it is that, by the end of the book, you start to understand some of what is being said. By the second or third read you can translate it all in your mind. It’s really something when a book not only enchants you like that, but gets you thinking about all the untapped potential of picture books as a whole."

You have such a distinctive illustration style. I'm curious: how do you choose which books you illustrate yourself? And which ones you pair up with a separate illustrator? Are there any dream books you would have loved to illustrate? "I feel like I really opened up my career once I decided I didn’t have to illustrate everything I write. It’s been this gift that I now get to work with illustrators I admire, and watch the process from the other side of things. I’d been considering it for a couple years before it happened, but wondered if I’d really ever write anything that I’d want to hand off to someone else. Then I wrote School’s First Day of School, and immediately I thought it needed a certain touch to the illustrations. Something classic, not too busy; something distilled down to a really powerful simplicity. And none of that sounded much like my work. I started thinking of people like Christian Robinson, and imagining that I’d have to find my own version of the kind of work he does. And I’m glad I didn’t do that.

Instead of ripping off Christian, why not see if I can just get Christian. And, amazingly, my editor on that book had had the same thought. After that experience, it became easier to ask myself: Am I really the best illustrator for this? If I were my own editor or art director, would I even think of me? It’s hard to come up with an old book I love that I wish I’d illustrated. If I love it, that’s probably because it has great words and great art that are so perfectly joined that separating them would feel offensive. But I have always had a desire to illustrate the really timeless and classic stories. Jabberwocky would be fun."

If you have children, what were your favorite picture books to read to them at age three? At age five? "My son Henry is nine now, and we still read at bedtime. Nowadays that’s often chapter books or middle grade novels, but we read a fair amount of picture books as well. Henry in Love by Peter McCarty remains a favorite. When he was younger we really loved The Big Honey Hunt by Jan and Stan Berenstain. I feel kind of indifferent to the sorts of books they made about the Berenstain Bears in later years, but those first couple (I also love The Bike Lesson) are great read-alouds with a really fun unreliable character."


What are the contemporary picture books that you hope will become the classics of the future? "Hoo. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. We Found a Hat by Klassen as well. The aforementioned Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis. Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller. My son has always loved If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen. Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris. Mad at Mommy by Komako Sakai. Wild by Emily Hughes. You Matter by Christian Robinson. Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and Christian Robinson. The Charlie and Mouse books by Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes. Anything by Isabelle Arsenault."

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Squirrel loves counting the leaves on his tree--red leaves, gold leaves, orange, and more. But hold on! One of his leaves is missing! On a quest to find the missing leaf, Squirrel teams up with his good friend Bird to discover who the leaf thief could be in this fun exploration of change.



Max's Boat Pick: THE LEAF THIEF

Written by Alice Hemming and illustrated by Nicola Slater

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (August 1, 2021)

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What inspired you to write The Leaf Thief? AH: "I came up with the idea for The Leaf Thief on a particularly lovely autumn day in 2010, walking through piles of leaves and turning the word ‘leaf’ over in my mind. I wrote the basic story on that same day, but I just couldn’t seem to get Squirrel’s voice right and the text didn’t quite work.


Years later, I was visiting a friend and her children. Her little boy was fascinated in some building work taking place next door and kept shouting out questions to the builder, who answered wearily but patiently. This exchange helped me find the voices of Squirrel and Bird. The Leaf Thief was accepted for publication, and I was over the moon when Fiz Osborne, my lovely editor, paired my words with Nicola Slater’s amazing illustrations. She instantly ‘got’ the book and was able to convey so much emotion and humour through the characters’ expressions. This, along with her use of colour and humorous touches brought the whole book to life."


Are there other picture books you love that explore autumn or seasonal change? "An oldie, but a goodie: All the books in Nick Butterworth’s Percy the Park Keeper series are delightful, but his autumnal After the Storm is a special favourite, in which all the animals work together to help each other after their tree falls down. Likewise, the whole Hedgehugs series (from husband and wife team Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson) is great but the autumnal one, Hide and Squeak, where Horace and Hattie follow a mysterious squeak, is particularly fun. More recently, the stunning Pip and Egg by Alex Latimer and David Litchfield. It’s not exactly seasonal but is about growth and change and the circle of life. I love it!"


Do you remember what you loved reading to your children at age three? "At this age, they loved simple, repetitive books, like Zed’s Bread by Mick Manning and Granström and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury. Mr. Pusskins and Little Whiskers by Sam Lloyd was a great way to introduce the idea of a new sibling, but also a fun story in its own right."







At age five? "When they were a little older, humour became particularly important. They found it with the Dr. Seuss books and Jonny Duddle’s Pirates series, especially The Pirates next Door. You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt also provided hours of fun! Along with the funnies, they enjoyed more gentle books with lovely artwork, including Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner and the small but perfectly formed Eric by Shaun Tan."








What are your favorite classic picture books? "Classic classics that take me back to my childhood include the perfect Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Ahlberg and Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It is amazing that books like these are read across the generations and never seem to grow old.


But there are many more modern classics, too, and I love I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen because it’s so funny, dark and quotable. I personally overuse the phrases 'I have seen my hat' and 'Don’t ask me any more questions.'


Also, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems. I remember finding this in a bookshop just as I was getting interested in writing picture books. I found it hilarious and bought multiple copies as presents."


What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Two that would definitely make the list, and I haven’t mentioned above, are: Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson. Three owls sitting on a branch for the entire story shouldn’t work, but the gentle, repetitive text and the beautiful illustrations with their shifting perspective, ensure that the story is a delight.


And I Love You, Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark. I love the rhythm, repetition, and wonderful expressions of an increasingly worried Blue Kangaroo as the book moves towards its snuggly, satisfying ending. Both are cuddly bedtime books, perfect for autumn evenings."