The day the "bad-something" is discovered written on a wall, the kids in the school are nervous, giggly, and curious at first, but then they're worried, confused, sad and angry. Everyone is suspicious. Who did it, and why? They miss the days before the bad-something appeared, because everything—and everyone—feels different now. It takes a lot of talking, listening, looking, and creating something good together to find a way to heal.
Max's Boat Pick:
Written by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (October 19, 2021)
Something Good has such an important message. Are there any other picture books you love that explore healing? Or coming together--whether as a school, neighborhood or community? CL: "Off the top of my head, I’m not thinking of anything that is an exact fit. But a few books I’ve read or reread recently come to mind in one way or another: Andrea Wang and Jason Chin’s Watercress is an exquisite book that deals with overcoming internal emotional obstacles and coming together as a family. Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler
and Sarah Jacoby, The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder and Cátia Chien, Michael Rosen’s SAD BOOK by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake, and Ten Beautiful Things by Molly Beth Griffin and Maribel Lechuga all deal beautifully with grief and healing. And School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson is a surprising take on the topic of school community. Also, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis is a book that deals with the grief that comes from not acting, leaving room for a 'what if' in the reader’s own heart and mind. It’s an incredibly powerful book."
You have such a distinctive illustration style. Are there any other illustrators you admire for their
distinctive style? "Oh my! In this golden age of illustration, it’s impossible for me to choose just one illustrator or just one book. But there are illustrators whose new books I tend to preorder, sight unseen, because I appreciate their work/distinctive style so much. They include: Julie Flett (Birdsong), Cátia Chien (The Bear and the Moon), Carson Ellis (Du Iz Tak), Isabelle Arsenault (Virginia Wolf), Beatrice Alemagna (What is a Child?), Julie Morstad (Time Is a Flower), Jillian Tamaki (They Say Blue), Sydney Smith (Town is By The Sea), Erin Stead (A Sick Day for Amos McGee), Christian Robinson (Leo: A Ghost Story), Shawn Harris (Have You Ever Seen A
(Three of my favorite, lesser known, no longer living, illustrators with very distinct styles that I absolutely love are Adrienne Adams, Ati Forberg, and Evaline Ness.)"
What do you think the best picture books do? "The best picture books surprise us. They take us on a journey that feels simultaneously unexpected and inevitable. To do this well, the words and pictures each have to leave a little room for the other—
to surprise, to contrast, to delight. This dance between the world of image and the world of sound makes a brilliant picture book so much more than a combination of the two. It’s what turns a book into a world we want to return to— again and again and again.
A few examples: Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis; both Extra Yarn and The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klasssen; School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson; My Museum by Joanne Liu; Migrant by Isabelle Arsenault and Maxine Trottier; The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper; Jon Agee’s Nothing; Michael Rosen’s SAD BOOK by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake; Saturday by Oge Mora, Mrs. Crump’s Cat by Linda Smith and David Roberts..."
What was your favorite picture book as a child? "As a young child, I loved reading Rootabaga Stories, written by Carl Sandburg, and illustrated by Maud and Miska Petersham, aloud with my mom.
I also adored Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends; The Fire Cat by Esther Averill; The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall; No More Monsters for Me by Peggy Parish and Marc Simont; Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library and Where the Wild Things Are; Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad and Lucille; Tomie de Paola’s The Clown of God; Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches and Other Stories; and Edward Gorey’s illustrated intro sequence for the PBS MASTERPIECE Mystery TV Series! Most of the books that I loved as a child were a combination of beautiful and absurd/strange. It’s a sweet spot for me.
Many years later, as a young adult, it was discovering George Saunders and Lane Smith’s book The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip as well as Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrations and Sophie
Blackall’s book Missed Connections that started me on my path to becoming a book maker."
If you have children, do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? "My daughter recently turned 12, and we have read sooo many picture books together that it’s hard to choose favorites. But the first book she memorized completely (in that 3 yr range) was Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon’s All The World—which our whole family adored. And our favorite book of poetry, without question, was and continues to be Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad’s
When Green Becomes Tomatoes. A few other favorites were/are Sergio Ruzzier’s Bear and Bee; Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always by Tao Nyeu; Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson; Virginia Wolf by Kyo MacLear and Isabelle Arsenault; Emily’s Balloon and Hannah’s Night both by Komako Sakai; Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson’s Gaston; Wave by Suzy Lee; and No Fits, Nilson! by Zacharia OHora. I could go on and on..."
What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future? "Everything I’ve mentioned above! I wish more people knew about George Saunders and Lane Smith's The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip. And I think When Green Becomes Tomatoes should be in everybody’s poetry collection (and everything else by Julie Fogliano.)"
Andy is a very particular anteater. He has his favorite toys, his favorite song, his favorite food... Ants! They’re the best! But when Andy goes for a sleepover with his favorite friend, Sam Sloth, he’s faced with unfamiliar things to play with―and strange new foods for dinner.
Max's Boat Pick:
ONLY ANTS FOR ANDY
By Jashar Awan
Publisher: Norton Young Readers (October 26, 2021)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Only Ants for Andy?
"Only Ants for Andy began when my family was playing an alphabet game and my wife said, 'Anteater eating an apple.' Just the thought of an anteater eating something other than ants really got my imagination going! Anteaters have pickiness built into their name and I was a picky eater growing up so I had lots of experience to draw from."
Do you have a picky eater at home? I can certainly attest to the particular pain of having two. Are there any books you admire that cover the topic well? "My son has to be a careful eater because he has a few severe food allergies, but he’s usually very excited to try new foods once he gets the ‘all clear.’ This inspired Sam Sloth’s ant allergy in Only Ants for Andy. Learning about his best friend’s allergy helps push Andy to eat some new grub.
Another book that does a great job with the topic of trying new foods is No Kimchi for Me! by Aram Kim. It tells the story of Yoomi as she overcomes her dislike of the titular food. There’s even a kimchi pancake recipe included in the back, so readers can try the dish for themselves!"
You've spent years illustrating for the New Yorker. I'm curious whether any picture book illustrators inspired your work there? "I’ve always been a big fan of William Steig! When I was little, I was inspired by Gorky Rises to make potions in the kitchen sink. Steig was a New Yorker illustrator, too. Like Steig, my editorial work was very linear (although I reinvented myself stylistically when I switched to picture books).
Can you tell me how you got started with picture books? Were there any books that made you think 'I really want to do this’? "After my son was born, I rediscovered my love of picture books. It was so much fun to start visiting Books of Wonder in Manhattan with the goal of building a little library for him.
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson was a real reminder of how fun kids books could be—fun to look at and fun to read aloud. I will always remember hearing my son’s little voice reciting the names of the puppies as they are introduced in the book. If that doesn’t make someone want to start making picture books, I don’t know what will!"
You have such a distinctive visual style. Who are some other illustrators you admire? "Ezra Jack Keats’s use of textures and bold shapes really inspires me. The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie made me want to make picture books, too.
Greg Pizzoli is another favorite of mine. The way he included real album covers in Good Night Owl inspired me to be specific with details and not be afraid of pop culture references while making Only Ants for Andy."
What books did you love as a child? "My dad read the Chronicles of Narnia to me as a bedtime
story while my brother would play toys with Mom. The next day, I’d wake up and draw an illustration for him of what had happened in last night’s chapter. My love of storytelling has always been tied to illustration!
Growing up, I loved the Nate the Great series by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Marc Simont. Simont’s artwork really brought all the different kids' personalities to life.
I read everything by Chris van Allsburg—even if his books did occasionally spook me (The Wretched Stone reads like a horror story!).
I got the biggest kick out of James Stevenson’s Mary Ann and Louie books. They would hear their grandpa’s childhood tales and imagine him as a little kid with a mustache. That image was so funny to me! What’s Under My Bed? was my favorite from that series. It’s one of my son’s favorites now, too."
What did you love reading to your son at age three? At age five? "At the age of three, we read a lot of Early Readers—Minarik and Sendak’s Little Bear books and anything by Arnold Lobel.
I’d remembered the Frog and Toad series and Mouse Soup from when I was young, so it was fun to dig a little deeper into Lobel's bibliography and discover books like Owl at Home, Grasshopper on the Road, and Small Pig. We also read quite a few Beatrix Potter books. When I was deciding what animals should be fishing at the pier in What a Lucky Day!, I had to include a frog as a nod to The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.
At age five, we loved reading Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton. The illustrations are so bold and graphic and colorful! 'What will George do?' I love stories that ask the reader a question. Towards the end of Brave Irene, Steig asks something like, 'Would you like to hear the rest?' It makes for a fun read aloud.
Right now, my son’s been enjoying the Mr. Wolf’s Class graphic novels by Aron Nels Steinke."
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien was an instant classic in my opinion. It covers big emotions in such a gentle and empathetic way. It’s the type of book that feels like it always existed.
There’s also something so classic about A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele. It feels like one of the books I read as a kid. It has such a great message about who gets to decide what is normal. I wish I’d grown up with it!"
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Most of the books I’ve already mentioned would probably find their way onto my list! They’d be joining books like—
Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans
I am a Bunny by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Doctor De Soto by William Steig
Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak
Anatole by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone
The Lion and The Stoat by Paul O. Zelinsky
The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket
and Matthew Forsythe
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
Mile End Kids Stories by Isabelle Arsenault
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak would take the top spot for sure. I love the way he's able to transport us to another world and back again before supper even starts to get cold."
High, high up in the clouds, a tiny snowflake is made. Perfectly fluffy and white, she tumbles and bounces on the clouds. But then, to her dismay, she begins to fall....
Max's Boat Pick:
By Benji Davies
Publisher: HarperCollins (September 14, 2021)
What inspired The Snowflake?
BD: "The idea came partly from my dad when one afternoon a few years ago he mentioned that I could write a picture book about a snowflake being made in the sky and about its journey as it falls to earth. I don’t think my dad ever had any storytelling aspirations and so I liked it that he had thought it might make a nice story. Then I barely thought of it for at least a year. However, ideas tend to sit I find, like a small seed waiting to flourish. In the summer of 2019, we found out that my dad had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer which would respond to treatment, but was not curable. One evening not long after receiving this news, a story began to tumble, like the snowflake… I imagined being the snowflake, falling through the cold winter sky, what that would feel like, if a snowflake had thoughts, feelings and desires. I wanted to create a parable for finding your place in the world. That we are all finding our own way through life and that if we trust our instincts we will see that everything will unfold as it should.
Now that I look at it, I was in some way processing my dad’s news, maybe for him or for me, or both. I dedicated the book to him and gave the grandpa in the story his namesake - Pappie - which is the name my daughter labelled him when she first began to talk. He sadly passed away this summer but the hardback version of the book was published last winter so thankfully he got to see the book and its dedication. The Snowflake is about just that - a small snowflake falling through a winter sky, looking for a place to land and the things she sees along the way. And a little girl called Noelle who is waiting for snow. So whilst the story is not autobiographical it does explore some personal themes and ideas." I've read that you "aim to capture what childhood feels like" in your books. Are you trying to capture what Christmas feels like for a child? "Absolutely. Not just the day, but that time of year, in the Northern Hemisphere at least. These are some of my most tender memories of childhood. The atmosphere and emotions felt so rich and intoxicating - the anticipation, the excitement, the decorations, the sights, sounds and smells, and the characters who make an appearance at that time of year."
What are some other Christmas picture books you love? "This version of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres. One of my strongest memories of the festive period and a family tradition in my childhood home was the reading of this special book on Christmas Eve. My two sisters and I relished the moment this precious, small, yellow-spined book was brought down from the high-cupboard hideaway where it had been stowed out of reach and largely out of mind, all year long. On the cover an illustration of three pyjama-clad mice, readying their stockings to hang by the chimney, a mouse child to represent each of us. The older siblings wearing red and yellow were my sisters, the smallest, wearing blue, was me - with added ears, whiskers and tail. It was the perfect primer for our yuletide expectation, read to us as it was by my mum before lights out, tucked under the duvet on that cosiest night of the year. Christmas could not formally begin without The Night Before Christmas recast with anthropomorphic mice.
A more recent and beautiful book set in winter (but not Christmas) I would recommend is Small In The City by Sydney Smith. There is a parallel between the child in his book and Noelle in The Snowflake, in that they are both alone and small in an urban setting. I read it for the first time recently and I was blown away by the power of his image making. The paintings are more like painterly sketches, they are loose and spontaneous but full of feeling, atmosphere and story. They don’t seem laboured despite the fact they must be highly considered. Every brush stroke and ink line is there for a reason, you can truly feel it. The writing is equally deft and sparse. Breathtaking work." I so love your take on family and the bonds that hold us together (I ADORE Grandad's Island). Are there other picture books you love for their unique and compelling takes on family? "Leon & Bob by Simon James"
What was your favorite picture book as a child? "The Tiger Who Came To Tea is the one that always sits on the tip of my tongue." What do you love reading to your daughter? "My daughter is four years old. She loves being read to and always at bedtime. I love reading Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis. There is no prose, only speech between the insect characters who puzzle over a small green shoot that is growing. It’s a lot of fun to make the words that the insects speak sound like a real language, which it purports to be, so much so that my daughter thinks I can speak insect. Who am I to tell her otherwise? Other books come and go as the current favourite, but we never become bored by Du Iz Tak?"
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back was already a classic as it rolled off the printing press. Or anything by my good friend, Chris Haughton. I have a particular soft spot for Oh No, George! I helped Chris make the trailer for that book during my previous life as an animation director. Chris and I met while working at an animation studio in London before either of us had started making our own picture books."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "All of the above, plus, to name a handful: