Interviews

Updated: Oct 4

Marco the fox has a lot of questions, but none of the other foxes share his curiosity. So when a magnificent ship adorned with antlers and with a deer for a captain arrives at the dock looking for a crew, Marco volunteers. Will he find his answers at last?

Pick by Chris Van Dusen, The Circus Ship:


THE ANTLERED SHIP

Written by Dashka Slater and illustrated by The Fan Brothers

Publisher: Beach Lane Books (September 12, 2017)

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What inspired you to write The Antlered Ship? DS: "One morning, I woke with an image hovering just behind my eyes, like the afterimage of a bright light. A ship with antlers at its prow, sailing into a harbor. I had no memory of the dream it had come from, if it had indeed come from a dream. All I had were questions: Why did that ship have antlers? Where was it going? Who was on board and what were they

looking for? The only way to find the answer was to sit down and write the story.


As I wrote, I encountered Marco the fox, who boarded the Antlered Ship to find answers to his questions about the world. His quest mirrored my own. The more I wrote, the more I recognized in Marco the curiosity that made me both a reader and a writer.


I didn’t know that The Antlered Ship was a book about curiosity when I started it. But if I hadn’t been curious, I never would have found out. I hope that when children read the book, they’ll be inspired to be lifelong questioners, asking questions not just of parents, teachers, and librarians, but of themselves and of each other. As Marco discovers in the course of the story, the quest to find answers is often more important than the answers themselves, and the best answers inevitably lead to more questions."


Are there other picture books you love about sea adventures? "Two of my favorite sea adventure picture books are Mabel: A Mermaid Fable by Rowboat Watkins and The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard. Not coincidentally, both are somewhat philosophical as well. Plus two more gorgeous sea-themed books: Swashby and The Sea by Beth Ferry and Juana Martinez-Neal and There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi and Laurel Molk."


What was your favorite picture book as a child?

"I absolutely loved A Little House of Your Own by Beatrice Schenk De Regniers and Irene Haas. It's a small, strange book about the need for privacy and solitude that voiced something I had always understood about myself but had never known how to name."


Do you remember what you loved reading to your child at age three? At age five? "My son and I were big fans of King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey and Don Wood, which allows for a lot of fun voices, and The Slow Train to Oxmox by Kurt Cyrus, a wonderfully surreal story about a verrrrry slow train that is sadly now out of print. We were also both obsessed by Olga Dugina and Andrej Dugin’s version of The Brave Little Tailor, with their breathtakingly bizarre illustrations."




What are your favorite classic picture books? "So many! One less well-known one is I Want To Paint My Bathroom Blue by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak which captures a child’s voice so perfectly and has such sweet Chagall-like illustrations. I’m a huge fan of all things Sendak, whose visions furnished the inside of my head when I was small. The books he wrote are my favorites – particularly Where The Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Nutshell Library, but I also love books like Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow and A Hole Is To Dig by Ruth Krauss, both of which were illustrated by Sendak and are written by two of children’s literature’s greatest writers."




What are some recent picture books that you hope will be the new classics? "Again, there are so many! I love She Wanted To Be Haunted by Marcus Ewert and Susie Ghahremani, Hungry Jim by Laurel Snyder and Chuck Groenink, In the Half Room by Carson Ellis, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano and Jillian Tamaki, and I am super excited about the soon-to-be-released What Will My Story Be? by Nidhi Chanani."


What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "One I haven’t yet mentioned is If You Want To See A Whale by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead."

At first, a young girl is embarrassed when her family wades in a ditch off the side of the road to collect watercress growing wild. But when her mother shares a story of her family's time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress.

Pick by Minh Lê, Drawn Together:


WATERCRESS

Written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin

Publisher: Holiday House/Neal Porter Books (March 30, 2021)

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What inspired you to write Watercress? AW: "Watercress is based on a memory that I couldn't get out of my head. At first, it seemed like a pleasant childhood memory of picking watercress with my family, but as I began really examining how I felt about the experience I realized that there were more complicated emotions associated with it. Writing the book was my way of exploring those layers of emotion and memory."

Minh Lê wrote that Watercress "deftly captures the complex emotions of assimilation in a way that makes it a modern-day classic." What are some other picture books you love for how they explore assimilation? "Wow, thanks for the incredibly kind words, Minh! Other picture books I love for how they explore assimilation are: A Different Pond by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui, which is about a young Vietnamese boy who goes fishing with his immigrant father in the pre-dawn hours; The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang and illustrated by Khoa Le, where a young Hmong girl longs for braces but discovers the true meaning of beauty; and Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Dung Ho, which is a heartfelt, joyous celebration of the feature that connects an Asian girl to her heritage."

What did you love reading to your sons at age three? At age five? "I loved reading all of Grace Lin's picture books to my sons when they were those ages. I also loved hearing them laugh, so I read lots of humorous books to them like Ice Cream Bear by Jez Alborough, Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley, and Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, and illustrated by Audrey Colman."



What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade is so much more than a book about fighting an oil pipeline. It is at once a heartbreaking example of what people are doing to the environment as well as a rousing call to action, reminding us that we are all connected to each other and to the earth, and together we can effect change. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by the late Floyd Cooper is a heartrending yet sensitive depiction of the worst racial attack in U.S. history -- an event that wasn't simply forgotten, but actively covered up for 75 years. It's imperative that historical events like this are brought to light and the stories shared as widely as possible, if we are to forge a more just and equitable future for our children."


The narrator wants to play hide and seek with Gordon and the reader. But what if Gordon doesn't want to hide anymore, and wants to stand out instead?



Max's Boat Pick:


HAVE YOU SEEN GORDON?

Written by Adam Jay Epstein and illustrated by Ruth Chan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 28, 2021)

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What inspired you to write Have You Seen Gordon? "When my daughters were little, I would read each of them a few books every night. Each of them would always pick at least one search and find style book. They love the interactivity of it and I enjoyed watching them have the moments of victory when they discovered something they were looking for. But there was one thing that was always missing from those books: A story. So for many years I thought about writing a search and find with a story. Then, I had a thought. What if the main character in a look and find book was proud of who they were and no longer wanted to hide? What would that do to the book? Suddenly an idea that had seemed funny now felt important and could have a message as well."


You're known for your middle grade fantasy series The Familiars and Snared. How did writing your first picture book differ from writing for middle grade? What do you think the best picture books do? "Writing a picture book is all about rhythm and cadence and repetition. Every word in a picture book requires careful thought and planning. It is closer to writing poetry than it is to writing a novel. I think that the best picture books leave both the child and the adult who is reading the book changed for having read it. Picture books are often more about a shared experience than they are a solitary and personal one."


What are some of your favorite "look and find" books? "One of my earliest reading memories is being read Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg. While not fitting the conventions of the present look and find books, it perfectly captured the spirit of finding hidden things within the picture that would propel you to the next page. You can't discuss look and find books without calling attention to Where's Waldo? by Martin Handford. His busy and cluttered pages set the stage for everything that would follow. Another pivotal look and find source in my life was Highlights magazine which had a search and find in each issue. There is no question that that magazine fostered an interest in that genre of book in kids across America."



What are some favorite picture books that break the fourth wall? "Well the first one that blew my mind as a kid was The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and Michael Smollin. I remember reading this book over and over and thinking that it was magical how it felt as if I was changing the story by turning the pages of the book. You felt mischievous for turning the page even though Grover begged you not to. Plus it had one of the all-time best twist endings.


I think The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers is a brilliant example of having the characters in the book talk to the reader in a way that feels fresh and exciting. You can hear each of their voices so clearly in your head and when you read them aloud it's fun to do a silly voice for each of the crayons.


I think another powerful version of breaking the fourth wall occurs on the very last page of The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss when the book asks the reader the question of whether they would tell their own mother what happened on that rainy day."


What was your favorite picture book as a child? "There are so many books that I loved as a kid but I will pick a pair from when I was very, very little. These are the two that my mother and father said that I would ask to be read over and over. Both are by the absolutely incredible Margaret Wise Brown - The Friendly Book and The Color Kittens. Both of which I still consider to be fantastic. The moment in The Color Kittens when the tree turns to a magical silver upon counting to three is one of the great page flips in all of children's books."







Do you remember what you loved reading to your daughters at age 3? At age 5? "This is a really interesting question. Because you're not asking what my girls loved having read to them but what I loved to read to them. At 3, Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann was always a favorite read. I would always add the line "there's a gorilla in my bed" at the appropriate part when the lights are flipped back on. Also that book is a secret "look and find" because the balloon appears on nearly every page getting smaller and smaller.


Another book I loved reading to them when they were younger is Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace. It is both funny and emotional at the same time with a great twist that comes deep into the book."

What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen is a new favorite of mine. There are few books that make me laugh as much as that one does. I loved the experience of reading Aaron Becker's Journey. I wanted to live in that book and all the amazing places that it took me. I Dissent by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley was a tremendously moving read and I think a very important book."



What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Wow. I'm the kind of guy that might be tempted to give you a hundred options here. But I will limit myself to just a few. First of all many of the books that I've written about in previous questions would be on my list of top 100. (The Color Kittens, Little Pea, The Day the Crayons Quit, The Monster at the the End of This Book, The Cat in The Hat) I will add a few that are so powerful that I think that every adult should read them, too. William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is one of the most moving books I have ever read. I recall in fourth grade having it read to me by a school librarian and it made an incredible impression. When I read it to my own daughters I wept uncontrollably after. Fables by Arnold Lobel is one of the most contemplative and thoughtful collection of stories. At the end of that book I feel motivated to change the world and push for greater things in my own life. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss is such a pleasure to read and have roll off your tongue."