Updated: Jan 31

When a weary stranger arrives one day, with only a suitcase, everyone is full of questions: Why is he here? Where has he come from? And just what is in that suitcase?

Max's Boat Pick:


By Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Publisher: Clarion Books (September 29, 2020)

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The Suitcase just really gets to the heart of the matter so beautifully and succinctly. Can you tell me its origin story?

CNB: "I was trying to think up story ideas for a new book and this was at the time of Trump’s election bid and the Brexit referendum. I started off with an idea about a wall that divided communities or countries and the misconceptions of what went on on the other side, but it felt a bit clichéd and didn’t really work. Doodling on this idea I drew a little character standing at the bottom of the wall and I thought this was more interesting. I wondered who they were, and what was in their bag. I felt I couldn’t credibly write a refugee’s story but I did think about how us humans could have such varied reactions to the arrival of immigrants and that’s what the story was about. We all have an instinctive fear of the unknown, but the important thing is what we do with these fears - either embrace them or reject them."

What are some other picture books you love for their exploration of empathy and/or kindness?

"The Day War Came by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb is a wonderful book inspired by the refusal of the British government to allow a group of child refugees to enter the country. Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini and Dan Williams is a very beautiful and moving poem about seeking refuge and the dangers it brings."

What do you think the best picture books do? "When you’re a child I think they take you off into their world. I think the first time this happened to me when I was little was with Roger Hargreaves’ Mr. Sneeze! Everything in Coldland where he lives is covered in snow and I totally loved this magical blank white world. Then a wizard melts the snow and everything is normal and it was such a massive disappointment to be back to reality. And of course, all kids love snow, so why did the wizard ruin everything? I really didn’t like the story because of this!

It’s harder to have that happen when you’re a grown-up but some of my favourite books can still do that - for example, Sean Tan’s The Arrival is such a perfectly realised world that you can’t help but be absorbed by it. David Almond and Levi Pinfold’s The Dam has a very evocative sense of place and time too - it’s gorgeous."

What did you love reading to your children at age 3? At age 5? "We had a really random selection of books when they were little. Reading picture books to them is what inspired me to start writing books myself. Some favourites that got read a lot were Jon Klassen’s Hat books, Carter Goodrich’s Say Hello To Zorro!, Quentin Blake’s Cockatoos, Oliver Jeffers’ The Way Back Home, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Stick Man, One Special Day by M. Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton, and Ten Tiny Tadpoles by Debbie Tarbett. I know some of the texts almost off by heart!"

What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "That’s really hard to predict. Maybe the really simple, beautifully executed books have the best chance of becoming ‘classics’? Like the aforementioned I Want My Hat Back or Chris Haughton’s books, like Shh! We Have A Plan.

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Well I have to go for my personal favourite book of all time which I’ve owned and loved since I was about seven years old - Amos & Boris by William Steig. It’s the story of an adventurous mouse who is lost at sea and rescued by a whale. They become best friends and it’s just a fantastic story of friendship and love. It’s one of those that certainly captivated me and took me away to its world. I read it a lot to my children, too, so I hope it’s going to go on through the generations!"

Britta visits her two favorite trees, Apple and Magnolia, every day. Though she can't explain it, she's sure they are best friends! Then one day, Magnolia's branches start to droop. Is there anything Britta--or Apple--can do to help?

Max's Boat Pick:


Written by Laura Gehl and illustrated by Patricia Metola

Publisher: Flyaway Books (February 8, 2022)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Apple & Magnolia? 

LG: "When I began learning about the ways trees communicate in real life, that became the seed for this story (sorry, couldn’t resist one tree pun!). As a forest lover and a former biology teacher, I find the concept of trees helping one another absolutely fascinating. In Apple and Magnolia, the main character, Britta, is absolutely convinced that the two trees in her yard are best friends. The reader never really knows whether the trees in the story do have a connection, or if the relationship is just in Britta’s mind and heart."

Are there other picture books you love that celebrate the natural world? "I adore Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby’s Outside In. A very different book I love is Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian. And a third is Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry and Juana Martinez-Neal. While Swashby is not primarily about the natural world, the way ocean waves interact with sand is my favorite part of the story!"

What are some of your favorite STEM picture books? "Stacy McAnulty’s Our Universe series, illustrated by David Litchfield and Stevie Lewis, is wonderful, because the books are funny as well as informative. Another favorite is The Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang."

What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future? "This one is already six years old, so not quite contemporary, but The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead, is one book that I hope will be read and cherished for generations to come."

Do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? "Because I have four kids (all two years apart), I was reading to a range of ages most of the time. One book we loved reading over and over was The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend and John Manders. I did different voices for each animal, and my kids laughed every single time."

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

favorite picture book ever is A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban. Every time I read it, I crack up. The songs are hilarious. And Frances’ jealousy that it isn’t her birthday is so relatable. A Birthday for Frances is just a perfect gem of a picture


Buckley and his Mama live in a cozy cabin by the ocean. He loves to carve boats out of the driftwood he finds on the beach nearby. He makes big boats, long boats, short boats and tall boats, each one more beautiful than the last, and sends them out to sea. If they don't come back, he knows they've found their way to his papa, whom he misses very much.

Pick by Anne Wynter, Everybody in the Red Brick Building and Zoey Abbott, Pig and Horse and the Something Scary


By Jessixa Bagley

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (June 30, 2015)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Boats for Papa

"I sort of had one of those lightning idea moments with Boats for Papa. It just came to me and wasn’t until I was done with the book that I realized it was basically the story of my childhood. Like Buckley, I was raised by my mom (my parents divorced when I was very young) and I had a long-distance relationship with my dad—not through boats, but rather phone calls, visits, and letters. My mom always encouraged me to make art—just like Mama in the story. The absence of Papa in the story is like the one in my own life

and left me focusing on who was there day-to-day to support me: my mom. I guess it’s like a love note to my mom in that way."

Boats for Papa explores loss and healing so beautifully. Are there other picture books

you love for how they explore loss or healing? "I love Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies. That is such a touching story and so delicately handles the passing of a grandparent. I also am just in awe of The Longest Letsgoboy, by Derick Wilder and Cátia Chien, that recently came out. It gives a look at death from the perspective of the dog, not the owner, offering so much hope and warmth. You really feel wrapped in love when you read it.

Also, Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper. Goodness, that is a sweet book and also makes me SOB. All those books handle the transition of death in a beautiful way but give the reader insight on how to move on and welcome new joy with old memories."

Do you have a favorite bookstore? "Being born an Oregonian, Powell’s Books in downtown Portland was a fixture in my life and part of my childhood in a very special way. It was a place that I would go with my family all the time that involved ritual and routine—much like the way some people attend church.

I was so small walking through the stacks of books. I felt excited and at the same time also humbled by what was around me. Being there seeing all those books made me feel like I was almost in the presence of royalty. There was nothing more important than books and the people that made them. Even though I don’t live in Portland anymore, I still consider it a home away from home."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "My top 100 would definitely be peppered with what I’ve listed above, but I have to include Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. That book was so magical to me as a child. I loved the graphic illustrations of the pasta taking over the town! I also would probably put Ms. Nelson Is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall. Another favorite from my childhood. I’ve thought about certain pages of that book my whole life.

Also, Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty. I didn’t get introduced to that book until I was an adult but it’s strange, more detailed than any other book I’ve read, and it’s incredibly fun—it’s absolutely perfect."