Every year, gusts of wind blow colorful autumn leaves to the ground. Some leaves make a crunch under foot, and others are so beautiful they deserve to be saved.
Pick by Mags DeRoma, To Make:
IF YOU FIND A LEAF
By Aimée Sicuro
Publisher: Random House Studio (July 12, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind If You Find a Leaf?
AS: "In 2015, I started making these collages with leaves that I found for the online project Inktober. Every year I looked forward to finding fall leaves and seeing what I could make with each different shape and colorful leaf I found.
In the fall of 2019 Rachael Cole, who is an author, artist, and art director at Random House reached out to me and asked me if I had ever thought about creating a story around these collages. It seemed unbelievable to be able to make a book out of the personal work that I loved creating."
Aimée Sicuro's early sketches for If You Find a Leaf:
What a great origin story! And what a phenomenal collection of leaves you have in your end pages! Did you collect every single one yourself? Where did you find them? There must be some fun stories behind them. "Yes, I did find all of the leaves in the book. Because I made this book during the darker days of the pandemic, I spent a lot of early mornings on a walk or run just to clear my head. I found a lot of leaves on those solo walks all around Brooklyn. My kids also helped me collect leaves when we went to Prospect Park and anytime we were out for a walk. My daughter came home from Pre-K last fall with a backpack full of leaves that she collected on their class nature walk. She explained to her teachers that she needed to collect them for me so I could make a book out of leaves. This made me laugh and wonder what her teacher must have imagined I was doing. It definitely became a family affair."
Interior spreads of If You Find a Leaf:
I love how you included your glycerin bath technique as backmatter. How did you come across this technique? "Originally when I was doing these drawings as a fun personal project, I would glue the leaf to the page, and inevitably it would become brown and brittle. I started experimenting with modge podge and leaf pressing techniques until I found the glycerin bath recipe online. This was the best solution for keeping the leaves soft, dimensional, and colorful. For the art in the book, I photographed the leaves when they were fresh to get the most vibrant version of the leaf. But it's helpful to preserve them for framed original art and to make crafts with kids throughout the year. For school visits, I've been collecting and preserving leaves for a collage activity I do with the students. This prevents the leaves from drying out and crumbling off the art that they've made."
For those who love If You Find a Leaf, can you recommend a few other titles that you think they might also enjoy?
"Lawrence in the Fall by Matthew Farina and Doug Salati. There are so many reasons to love this book. Farina captures the range of emotions so perfectly and the bond between Lawrence and his father is felt throughout the text. You can feel the texture of the beautiful illustrations on every page and the soft muted colors give this book a warm inviting feeling. The perspective and the details on every page are wonderful.
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. The collage style is a wonderfully tactile imaginative journey of the man made of real leaves and is a book that I could read over and over with my kids.
Leaves by David Ezra Stein. The fluid linear illustration style in this book has a whimsical joyful feeling. The lovable bear tries to understand why the leaves are falling from the tree and if the trees need his help. It's a great way to talk about the seasons with kids and why leaves fall in Autumn."
What are some other fall picture books you love?
"Sweep by Louise Greig and Júlia Sardà
Storm by Sam Usher
Yellow Time by Lauren Stringer"
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?
"The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton The Snowy Day by Ezra Jacks Keats
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien Outside In by Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby Last Stop on Market Street by Matt la Pena and Christian Robinson
If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall"
What forthcoming picture books are you most looking forward to reading?
"School Trip by Jerry Craft My Baba’s Garden by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Beatrice Alemagna
Fireworks by Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien
Tap! Tap! Tap! by Hervé Tullet
You Rule by Rilla Alexander"
This unique picture book biography provides a mesmerizing look at the life of children’s writer Ruth Krauss (1901–1993), best known for books such as The Carrot Seed, A Hole is to Dig, and A Very Special House.
Max's Boat Pick:
A STORY IS TO SHARE: How Ruth Krauss Found Another Way to Tell a Tale
Written by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers (October 11, 2022)
Carter, you’ve previously shared that A Hole is to Dig is one of your all-time favorite picture books. How did you come to Ruth Krauss’s work? Were they read to you when you were a child? Or did you discover them in adulthood?
CH: "The Happy Day and The Carrot Seed feel like solid, tangible memories from my childhood as a reader, though I doubt I knew they were from the same hand. It definitely wasn’t until my first years as a school librarian that I connected all of these books I loved to her, which is one of the most magical things about writers whose books are illustrated by many other people. Finding the patterns in an author’s voice, both mine and as a reader, is so satisfying."
Carter, can you tell me what kind of influence Ruth Krauss has had on your books? There’s a clear thread line with Big and Small and In-Between, but how has she influenced your other work?
CH: "I am a writer who can easily get caught in the cycle of trying way too hard. Too often I’ll squeeze the guts out of a story just because I like a certain turn of phrase or the way one syllable sounds. Ruth’s work has always felt effortless, but well-crafted. Strange, but logical. Always authentic in sound. The idea that a book can be an experience rather than a sequence of events has really stuck with me, and Circle Under Berry doesn’t exist without the visual thinking of A Moon or a Button. I think I’ll always favor vignettes and loose collections of small moments rather than straightforward narratives in my own picture books."
Isabelle, your body of work is so impressive! (I absolutely adore your other new book, The Mouse Who Carried a House on His Back, written by Jonathan Stutzman, too.) You must get so many manuscripts thrown at you. How do you choose what you work on?
IA: "Mostly intuition. When I’m surprised, either by a style of writing or a subject, when it feels new, or when I perceive an interesting concept to the book (like the die-cuts in The Mouse Who Carried a House on His Back) or a potential graphical approach that I’m excited to try, I jump into it. I like stories that allow some freedom, that are not too rooted in reality. I also like exploring, not repeating myself from book to book. And there are subjects that I simply cannot turn down, like the bio of Louise Bourgeois, a collaboration with Mac Barnett (Just Because), or even this book about Ruth Krauss."
Isabelle, can you tell me how you became involved with A Story is to Share? What was it about the text that most drew you in?
IA: "I was puzzled by Carter’s manuscript and uncertain of my understanding, as I was not so familiar with Ruth’s work and poetry. So, I did some research. I took the time to read a biography about Ruth Krauss, in order to know who she was and get more familiar with her journey. I found her life exciting and inspiring. I was able then to realize the impact she had on American children’s books and seize the references featured in Carter's text."
Isabelle Arsenault's research for A Story is to Share:
Isabelle, what kind of influence has Ruth Krauss had on you?
IA: "Ruth Krauss was an inventive artist who followed her instincts and enjoyed exploring new ways of doing things. I can relate to that and admire the accomplishments she made while ignoring rules and conventions or trends."
Isabelle, I’m curious how your approach differs between a biographical picture book and a work of fiction?
IA: "Research increases when it comes to non-fiction, since above all I would not want to make a mistake about a person who has really existed. Once the subject is thoroughly understood, I can put myself more easily in one’s shoes, in order to interpret his or her story. I also like to make graphic references to their works through mine. The idea is not to copy but to be consistent with the subject. For example, I wanted to refer to Ruth Krauss’s innovative way of doing things by being conceptual in my own work and drawing certain elements digitally to contrast with more traditional mediums featured elsewhere in the book."
Isabelle Arsenault's early renderings (above and below):
A color test from Isabelle Arsenault:
Carter, what do you think Isabelle brought to the book that perhaps originally wasn’t there?
CH: "I have such immense gratitude for the way Isabelle took a very fluid, abstracted text and wrapped reality around it in a way that’s accurate and episodic but also playful and unconventional–just like Ruth’s books. Writing any picture book text is a tricky task, but in this case I hadn’t really considered how it might work in an actual book. One summer I’d immersed myself in Philip Nel’s fascinating biography (and improbable beach read) of Ruth and her husband Dave: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature.
The early drafts were just my response to that book as a reader, paired with a longtime appreciation for Ruth and the undeniable influence she has on my own work. They were nothing more than scribbles and phrases that tiptoed into poetry but weren’t meant to be a book.
Years later when I began working on the text with our editor, I wanted to maintain that spontaneous and accidental quality–both because I liked it that way and thought it was a fitting tribute to Ruth herself. Isabelle’s art wrapped context around it all, making it both grounded and utterly beautiful.
There’s a moment where Ruth comes face to face with the boy who inspired The Carrot Seed, and while we’ve both reimagined this moment, it feels like such a clear representation of how she became a giant."
Interior spreads of A Story is to Share:
For those who love A Story is to Share, can you recommend one or two other titles that you think they might also enjoy?
IA: "Of course, for those who haven't yet, I would recommend reading The Carrot Seed and A Hole Is To Dig. And for those who like biography books about children’s books creators, I would also highly recommend The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby, and It Began With A Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew The Way by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad."
CH: "Something our book shares with Ruth’s work is a meandering approach to narrative, maybe even just shy of fragmented. Books that play with structure are endlessly fascinating to me. I’d check out The Real Dada Mother Goose: A Treasury of Complete Nonsense by Jon Scieszka and Julia Rothman–what a bunch of twists there! Another recent favorite is Like by Annie Barrows and Leo Espinosa. Its language is both exquisite and accessible, and visually? An absolute treat."
Isabelle, SO many illustrators have said they admire you. Who do YOU most admire?
IA: "Ohhh SO many illustrators, too… for many different reasons. And not just picture book illustrators, but graphic novel/comics artists as well. Hard to mention just one… Beatrice Alemagna, Marc Boutavant, Frédérique Bertrand, Dominique Goblet, Kitty Crowther, Manuele Fior are some of them."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?
IA: "In no particular order:
The Lost House by B.B. Cronin
Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide and Carson Ellis
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna
Who Owns the Clouds? by Mario Brassard and Gérard DuBois (published in French last year here in Québec, and coming out in English January 2023 from Penguin Random House)
At the Drop of a Cat by Élise Fontenaille and Violeta Lópiz (originally published in French in 2011, and coming out in January 2023, too, from Enchanted Lion. Keep an eye out for these!"
CH: "I can’t make a list like that without Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni, A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and Marc Simont, Fortunately by Remy Charlip, and Clocks and More Clocks by Pat Hutchins."
What forthcoming books are you most looking forward to reading?
IA: "My Baba’s Garden by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen."
CH: "I’m really looking forward to Just One Flake by Travis Jonker and Nell Plants a Tree by Anne Wynter and Daniel Miyares."
Inside the Night Owl, a feathery cook works the grill, serving up tasty dishes for shift-workers and operagoers alike. Mouse, a poor street sweeper, watches as the line of customers swells, ever hopeful that someone will drop a morsel of food — but Owl’s cooking is far too delicious for more than a crumb to be found. As the evening’s service winds down, weary Owl spots trembling Mouse. Has he found his own night lunch, or will he invite this small sweeper inside for a midnight feast for two?
Max's Boat Pick:
Written by Eric Fan and illustrated by Dena Seiferling
Published by Tunda Books (September 27, 2022)
Eric, can you tell me the origin story behind Night Lunch? EF: "Thanks for interviewing us, Ratha! I started writing Night Lunch while attending the Bologna Book Fair. I’ve always wanted to write a story about food, since I love to cook and I love going to restaurants. While attending the Book Fair - and enjoying a lot of amazing food - I happened to read about the horse-drawn predecessors of diners and food trucks, which were called night lunch carts. They served very simple food, and catered mostly to the working class. It struck me how opulent the carts themselves were. There was a kind of aesthetic generosity to them. That got me thinking about other kinds of generosity, which ultimately became the main theme of the story."
Eric, as an author/illustrator, I’m curious how the idea of having someone else illustrate Night Lunch came about? Is this an idea you’ve always wanted to explore? EF: "It’s definitely something I’ve thought about. I always felt a little envious of authors who get to see their story brought to life through the vision of an artist. I like the transformational aspect of that, from word to image. Maybe it’s because for a long time I used to write screenplays and I always dreamed about seeing one of them turned into a movie. I didn’t want to direct the movie myself, per se, I wanted to see someone else bring it to life. There’s just something magical about that."
Eric, you’re known as one-half of The (legendary) Fan Brothers. How did the idea for collaborating with someone other than Terry (or Devin) come about? EF: "When I was writing Night Lunch I realized that the images I was seeing play out in my mind’s eye were all kind of in Dena’s style - luminous and mysterious, but also with a bit of shivery spookiness. It just seemed like a fun idea to collaborate with another artist I admired, and I was very fortunate that she wanted to illustrate it as well."
Dena, at what point did you come onboard? What was your initial reaction upon reading the text? What most drew you in? DS: "I had just started working with Tara Walker (Tundra/Penguin Random House Canada) on Bear Wants to Sing, written by Cary Fagan, when she asked if I would be interested in illustrating for Eric’s story. It was exciting for me because of how much I admire Eric’s work and also because, being fairly new to children’s books, this was subject matter I hadn’t had an opportunity to illustrate yet. I loved the combination of so many different animals being part of the story. It was my dream cast – all nocturnal animals. And throughout the process it ended up being a lot of fun to balance realism with fantasy in regards to the characters and their environment. I also really loved how Eric came up with the story idea, what inspired him, the fact that it had a twist and that it had this subtle message about paying it forward /generosity."
Dena, can you share how the illustration process unfolded? Did you discuss your vision with Eric beforehand? How did it feel like to show your illustrations to another illustrator? And to Eric, no
less?! DS: "To be honest, I was feeling a little intimidated at first. I greatly respect Eric’s opinion as he is a master of narrative, character and environment. I was basically just really hoping that he would be happy with it, of course. I never spoke with him directly until a little later in the process but the feedback I received through our editor was so positive that the fear quickly disappeared. This was great and I think essential in providing me with the freedom to explore my ideas with confidence. Eric is such a professional and I’m not surprised that he has a wonderfully open minded philosophy on being an author collaborating with an illustrator.
It began with Tara Walker, our editor, handing me the manuscript along with some of the articles that Eric had found while developing the story so we shared some of the same initial inspiration. I also knew that he wanted the cart to be very Rococo-esque and lavish so I had a great jumping off point overall.
In regards to my process, I sat with the manuscript for a little bit. I had just finished The Language of Flowers, a book project of my own with Tara Walker and I basically began Night Lunch right after finishing that. Researching differing eras and décor helped with creating some studies of what the characters and food cart might look like. There were a few objects I knew Eric wanted to see in the illustrations, like the accurate representation of the late 1800’s espresso machine that we see inside the food cart. That was interesting to research as they are pretty epic looking! I drew environment studies and colour studies to get a feel for the world and then a storyboard of rough thumbnails to show how the images would work together and pace out. I added detail to the next round of roughs that were translated into the final full colour drawings. This is the first time my artwork in a book was fully digital and I had a really fun time exploring how to draw in a different way and see how things might change - be easier/harder etc. compared to doing the drawings all with a traditional pencil first. The act of drawing is extremely important to me. I feel like this is where I can communicate a great deal of emotion in the characters, etc."
Eric, I know you were already a huge fan of Dena’s work. At what point did you first see Dena’s illustrations for Night Lunch? Did you already envision the art in your own head? And if so, what
was it like seeing someone else’s take on it? EF: "Like I said, when I wrote the story I had already been envisioning it in her style, so when I saw the final art it was a wonderful fulfillment of that initial vision. It was almost a magical feeling - like something purely ephemeral had crossed over from the land of imagination and taken on a tangible physical form."
Eric, what most surprised you about Dena’s illustrations? Did you provide any feedback? EF: "As someone who has illustrated other author’s stories, I was happy to take a backseat and not interfere with that process at all. An illustrator is an equal collaborator who is bringing their own sensibility and imagination to the story, and I don’t think it’s the author’s place to intrude on that process."
Eric, what do you think Dena brought to the book that perhaps originally wasn't there? EF: "Early on she made the decision to make the owl a barn owl, which surprised me. I had always imagined a more clichéd picture book owl, like a great horned owl. I think it was a wonderful choice, since there’s something so mysterious and dignified about barn owls. It’s decisions like that that helped elevate the story. As much as I tried to suggest the mood and atmosphere of the story through the writing, I think Dena manifested that in her art beyond what I could have ever hoped for."
Eric and Dena, for those who love Night Lunch, are there any other titles that you think they might also enjoy ? EF: "What comes to mind for me are the quiet, mysterious picture books of Akiko Miyakoshi like The Way Home in the Night, I Dream of a Journey, or The Tea Party in the Woods. I love the dreamlike quality of her books, and I think that mood would resonate with anyone who enjoys Night Lunch. Another book I can think of is The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer and Mariachiara Di Giorgio. It’s gorgeous and magical, and also has a cast of animals."
DS: "I think readers might like the moody and conceptual vibe of Emilia Dziubak’s illustrated books. She is very unique. I have recently ordered a book that she illustrated called, Horror, written by Madlena Szeliga, about vegetables which are framed in a humanistic light. It’s a picture book… but maybe not for very young children. I also think the surreal atmosphere of The Queen of the Cave, written and illustrated by Júlia Sardà, might appeal to Night Lunch readers. It’s a lovely book that is slightly abstract and could be translated in different ways. I see it as a coming of age story of a girl who, through an adventure with her sisters, finds her wild and authentic self."
Eric and Dena, what are some forthcoming books you’re most looking to getting your hands on? EF: "I confess I’m not completely on top of all the books that are publishing this year, but from what I’ve seen on social media, and books coming out from some of my friends, I’m excited to read Mina by Matthew Forsythe, Walter Had a Best Friend by Deborah Underwood and Sergio Ruzzier, My Self, Your Self by Esmé Shapiro, Strum & Drum: A Merry Little Quest by Jashar Awan, Patchwork by Matt de la Peña and Corinna Luyken, Big Truck, Little Island by Chris Van Dussen, The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and Kumo: The Bashful Cloud by Kyo Maclear and Nathalie Dion."
DS: "Shaun Tan has a new picture book coming out in November called Creature (he illustrates picture books but this one is a book of his paintings). I love his sensibilities and storytelling. He’s very cross-disciplinary and it’s inspiring to see how his voice and imagination are expressed in different mediums. I’d like to get a copy of Still This Love Goes On by the incredible Buffy Sainte-Marie and Julie Flett. This is their second collaboration together. I’m also really wanting to read Kumo: The Bashful Cloud by Kyo Maclear and Nathalie Dion. Natalie’s cloud world and characters look stunning and Kyo’s stories are always magic."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? DS: "I have many favourite picture books of all time and most are woven into my childhood memories: Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams, is about a little fur character exploring the world outside its home as if for the first time (it even has a tiny fur jacket cover), and Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban and Garth Williams. Williams is one of my all time favourite illustrators and this book is precious. Lastly, Lizzy’s Lion, by Dennis Lee and Marie-Louise Gay, a rhyming story about a girl with a lion who eats a robber that breaks into her room one night. It’s a little dark but also charming and funny."
EF: "I’ll just name my two of my favorite picture books: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, which my parents read to me a hundred times when I was little, maybe a thousand times, at my insistence. Then there’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and basically anything by William Steig. He’s such a brilliant writer, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble goes to some unexpectedly dark places for a picture book; there’s genuine existential dread in the story, which gives it a lot of punch and emotional resonance."