Interviews

Join the narrator and her dog on their daily walk as they greet the people in their neighborhood—from the mail carrier and bus driver to the sanitation workers and grocery clerks and more. Whether listening, asking, helping, or just saying hello and thank you—it is our patience and kindness that make a neighborhood feel like home.

Pick by Julie Falatko, Yours in Books and Bob Shea, Chez Bob:


THANK YOU, NEIGHBOR!

By Ruth Chan

Publisher: HarperCollins (September 28, 2021)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Thank You, Neighbor!  

RC: "The idea for Thank You, Neighbor! came in April 2020, during the worst of the pandemic in NYC. My editor, Nancy, and I discussed making a book about the essential workers helping to keep the city going. But the more I thought about how the pandemic was impacting all of us, the more I kept asking myself, 'What makes me feel safe, connected and cared for in my tiny radius?' I realized it was my neighbors -- the ones who live here, and the ones who work here every day -- and many of whom I’ve come to know over the years on my daily walks with my former dog, Feta. Besides, my friend, Brian Floca, had already snagged the idea of making a book about essential workers! The interactions between my neighbors and me, from simply greeting each other to doing little thoughtful things for each other, created a sense of much-needed connection for all of us. I wanted to make a book as an ode to our block, and specifically these neighbors, many of whom are characters in the book."

When the pandemic first hit, our worlds certainly became smaller as we all hunkered down at home. But our sense of community, as you so wonderfully explored in Thank You, Neighbor!, felt stronger than ever. Are there other picture books you love about community or connectedness? "There are so many amazing books about community and connected-ness! My favorite is Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. I remember feeling so much warmth when I read it, and I love this book so much, I actually pay homage to the book in Thank You, Neighbor!

Other favorites include: Windows by Julia Denos and E. B. Goodale, Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora, and A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams."


Are there other picture books you love that were inspired, either directly or indirectly, by the pandemic? "As I mentioned, Brian Floca’s Keeping the City Going is phenomenal. That guy can sure draw a truck! We’ve been able to do a few book events together this year, and it’s been fun to see how kids relate to both our books in such real, tangible ways. I also love Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham."


You have such a distinctive illustration style. Who are some other illustrators you admire for their distinctive style? "I love Cátia Chien’s work so much, it always kind of blows my mind! Her style is the perfect combination of beautiful, funny, heartbreaking,

endearing, and unusual (in a good way!). Her latest

book, The Longest Letsgoboy, written by Derick Wilder, encompasses all of those things, while telling a tale of loss that hits you right in the heart while also giving the reader so much joy."


What do you think the best picture books do? "The Longest Letsgoboy is an example of what the best picture books do. They don’t shun away from real emotional experiences (even if they’re hard), they use language that is beautiful yet succinct, and they feature art that makes you feel all sorts of things.

I’m also a sucker for humor—any humor—in a book. It doesn’t have to be slapstick, loud humor. It can be a visual joke, a facial expression, a quiet detail."


What was your favorite picture book as a child? "Richard Scarry books were my favorite growing up, and are on the top of my 100 best picture books of all time. I was a very reluctant reader, but I remember being enamored by and getting lost in Richard Scarry’s books. I loved all the little, silly details he put in his books. I loved looking for the pickle car and a character with a pineapple hat, and I could spend hours just poring over all the little things he included. I think those tiny details like unexpected elements, facial expressions, and goofy moments are something I’ve definitely brought into my own books, and I have Richard Scarry to thank for that!"


Updated: Apr 11

Rabbit isn't sure he'll ever be brave enough to go on an adventure. He's a homebody who lives in a quiet field of wheat he dreams of leaving every night. His world is enlarged by his friend Dog and Dog's tales of motorbike adventures. But one day, Dog is gone, and with him, go the stories Rabbit loves so much. Dare Rabbit pick up the motorbike and live his own story?

Pick by Corinna Lukyen, Something Good:


RABBIT AND THE MOTORBIKE

Written by Kate Hoefler and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Publisher: Chronicle Books (September 10, 2019)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Rabbit and the Motorbike? KH: "I slowly worked on the story over a span of about a year and a half as my life, as I’d known it, had drastically altered. I had experienced a loss, and I felt both stuck (and wanting to stay curled in a ball) and thrown into an unknown where I absolutely could not stay curled in a ball, but had to try out my legs – in some ways, for the first time. I was also acutely aware that no one could do that walking (or living) for me. I now see how much of my own grappling was the very grappling that Rabbit experiences when figuring out what to do with Dog’s motorbike – after Dog dies. What do we do with absence? How do we transform absence back into something that feels like moving forward, and loving, and living? There’s a phrase I have on my fridge that a friend once said - 'in our own patterns, in our own time,' and that’s how Rabbit progresses, and how we all progress. We all have our own timetables, and that’s okay. It's okay that birds have time to build nests in that motorbike’s spokes. I also didn’t see many picture books about fear and grief that also contained adventure and euphoria in them. Quite often, things are only just looking up at the end of the book – and while there’s nothing wrong with that structure, I wanted this story to have what surprised me most about grappling with major upheaval – that joy is still a part of your life – and will be – when you’re on rocky terrain. And while joy (during upheaval) won’t necessarily take the form of a long road trip on a motorbike for most – it might be in a friend’s laugh, a memory, a song, a bloom, a sunrise. It’s still available – right here – right in the middle of things. Sometimes between cries. One of my friends, after reading the book, said, 'I know that Rabbit.' Meaning me. And also talking about herself. I think we’re all a little of both – adventurous Dog, and slow-to-warm Rabbit. (Although I’m probably mainly Rabbit). It was really a lullaby to myself, working through how to live differently, and I had no idea just how many people of all ages would connect to it."

As Corinna Luyken had mentioned in her interview, Rabbit and the Motorbike "deal(s) beautifully with grief and healing." Are there other picture books you love that explore grief, loss or healing? "There are so many great books that deal with how to be present with difficult emotions -- and each one sorts through aspects of healing differently (which I think is so important – there's no one 'right' way). Some favorites that come to mind are Bear Island by Matthew Cordell, Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley, The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder and Cátia Chien, When Sadness is at Your Door by Eva Eland, and Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch."

What was your favorite picture book as a child? "I had many – but one I remember lighting a fire in me (and making me want to be a writer) was When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant and Diane Goode. I think that book carried me as I got older as well and began studying writing formally. In many ways, Cynthia Rylant’s work gave me a sort of 'permission' to create as a fellow Appalachian woman."

Do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? "You know, I think we were reading the same books at 3 and 5. We had board books, but I remember mainly reading picture books – and both children sat for them, and were interested in them at a very young age. Some of our favorites were A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams, Dodo Gets Married by Petra Mathers, The Magic Bed and

Time to get out of the bath, Shirley by John Burningham, Perfect the Pig by Susan Jeschke, Imogene’s Antlers by David Small, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammell, and we LOVED pouring over the pages of Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno. (That last page still grips me!!!!)"


What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "One of THE best picture books of all time (in my own heart) is Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. It’s a book that has it all, walking a perfect tightrope between social honesty and wonder (the power of imagination), and with such a strong triumphant voice. Sometimes I think all creators are chasing a feeling that a favorite book planted in them years ago – and that’s the book I chase. The book I’ll always chase. I’m so glad it exists."

Updated: Jan 4

Oscar is a whiz in the kitchen, but he’s always dreamed of being a detective. When a squirrel is reported missing, Oscar hopes this will be his big break.

Max's Boat Pick:


DETECTIVE MOLE

By Camilla Pintonato

Publisher: HarperCollins (November 16, 2021)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Detective Mole?

CP: "I wrote Detective Mole at a moment in my life when I found myself having to make a choice between working as a graphic designer or trying to be a full-time author-illustrator.


Before, I used to do both to earn a living, but I wasn’t happy because my dream was to to always work on books. On the other hand, being a graphic designer allowed me to enter a studio and work more serenely. It was a real dilemma.


It was precisely at that moment when Oscar arrived; blindfolded and with his head in the clouds, he’s exactly like me. He is a chef (a very good one) but his dream is to be an investigator. Why? He doesn’t know either, but dreams are always like that.


So there wasn't a precise moment when I thought 'this is going to be a detective story.' The idea came when I wasn't looking for it, and I don't even know exactly how. Maybe it came with a good laugh because a mole is really unfit to do this kind of job!"

Can you tell me how you got started in picture books?

"I fell in love with picture books exactly twelve years ago, when I came back almost by accident to visit an exhibition I remembered I saw once in my childhood and which took place every year in a small town called Sarmede, near the home of my maternal grandparents. The exhibition consisted of a few rooms on the first floor of the town hall and that year the guest of honor was Beatrice Alemagna. I think I stayed there for two and a half hours. When I went out it was dark and I was very clear what I wanted to do in life. I haven’t looked back since."








Who are some other illustrators you admire and what do you think they do especially well? "There are so many. I'll mention just a few that I really love: Oliver Jeffers for his absurd irony, Jon Klassen for his iconic designs, Beatrice Alemagna for her magical atmospheres and Marc Boutavant because nobody makes animals as beautiful as he does!"


What are the contemporary picture books that you hope will become the classics of the future?


"On my dream list:

Little Bird by Germano Zullo and Albertine

What is a Child? by Beatrice Alemagna

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

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

What do you think the best picture books do? "For me, the best children’s books teach without doing so explicitly, using irony and simplicity.


Chris Haughton is a master of this, and he achieves it in all of his books. But if I have to pick a favorite, it would have to be Little Owl Lost."