Moon cannot see but he hears sounds that other horses ignore: the eggshell crack of a meadow lark hatching. Clara does not speak but she hears sounds that other children ignore: the hum of the oven when her mother bakes muffins. Both the foal and the little girl live with challenges. Both also have special qualities, which are recognized by friends who are open to seeing them.
Max's Boat Pick:
MIDNIGHT & MOON
Written by Kelly Cooper and illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Publisher: Tundra Books (February 8, 2022)
The illustrations for Midnight & Moon are so lush and breathtaking. What was your starting point and / or inspirations? "That’s so kind of you! Thank you so much! To begin with I needed to do a lot of background research. There’s a tenderness to the story and such an emphasis on the friendships. I wanted to be clear about where the characters were coming from. Also, the horses! I spent time going to horse barns and watching riders and their horses before Covid shut most things down. Then I would drive around the area I live and spot horses in pastures to observe and photograph from the road.
When it came to making the art, I started with some ink, a brush, and newsprint paper. I started sketching out the book with these materials in a gestural way. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make the finished paintings, but I suspected that the ink and brush would give me an emotional quality that felt right. Once I had my sketches I just inched towards incorporating color. Then I tried some gouaches for my finished art experiments and that was where I landed. The book has sweeping landscapes, close in intimate moments, changes of season and time of day. I wanted an approach that would preserve the energy and movement of horses through all of those scenarios. I hope that comes through in the finished book."
For those who love Midnight & Moon, can you recommend a few other titles you think they might also enjoy? "Sure thing! A couple of titles that I love that might have connection points are: A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by Cátia Chien and The Silver Pony by Lynd Ward. A Boy and a Jaguar is based on Alan’s life and how his deep connection to animals helped him navigate his stuttering. Alan’s dedication to wildlife conservation and his journey are so inspiring, but also Cátia’s artwork is magical as usual.
The Silver Pony is an oldie but a classic on my shelves. It’s about 175 pages long and it’s a wordless book. It tells the story of a boy who befriends a majestic winged horse on his farm. They have adventures all over the world and form a sweet bond. It was published in 1973 I believe so it’s got some quirks to it, but it’s still wonderful."
What did you love reading to your kids at age 3? At age 5? "My children are now 13 and 10 years old. For my daughter her all time favorite was Antoinette Portis’s Not A Box. We’d read it every night before bed for years. She also loved Chloe, instead by Micah Player. For my son it was a book illustrated by my friend Bob Kolar and written by Margery Cuyler called The Little Dump Truck. They also both loved Paola Opal’s books, Saffy, Ollie, and Totty when they were real young. Oh, and also anything by Sian Tucker. We had The Little Boat, Going Out, and The Little Train."
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "This is a really tough question for me to answer. I spend most of my time trying not to worry about picture book rankings. It seems like the books that have gotten major book awards are going to be in print for quite a while. So does that make them classic? Then there are the books that are on the bestseller lists week after week. Is a classic made by how many copies have sold? I’m not sure.
Some books that I have on my shelf that I consider classics are King Mouse by Cary Fagan and Dena Seiferling, Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan, The Last Resort by J. Patrick Lewis and Roberto Innocenti, and The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Maybe what’s classic is specific to each reader? I’ll go with that."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats would be one I’d put on my 100 best list."
A thoughtful little Rabbit sets out to find the perfect gift for his Nana. He knows she will love anything he brings her but Rabbit wants this gift to be extra special. As he travels on his quest, Rabbit encounters an assortment of creatures-a crow, a smiling full moon, a stickler (whatever that is), a big fish, and a volcano. Each is certain they offer the best advice but nothing they suggest seems right for his Nana. It's not until Rabbit reaches the highest peak, that he finds exactly what he's been searching for.
Pick by Bob Shea, Chez Bob:
A GIFT FOR NANA
By Lane Smith
Publisher: Random House Studio (April 12, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind A Gift for Nana?
LS: "The character of Nana is based on my mom. Everyone called her Nana and she was a big kid at heart. I know I became a children’s book creator due to Mom’s influence. Growing up, our house was filled with toys and dolls and stuffed animals. Hers, not mine.
When I was around eight years old I saw Mom admiring a big jar of striped peppermint sticks at a store. It looked like something from an old candy shoppe or apothecary. That Christmas I set out on my bike (this was in the 1960s when a kid was safe to roam unaccompanied). I rode through rocky fields and past the giant rusty Sunkist lemon factory and over hills and on back roads until I finally arrived at the store. I pulled out all of my saved-up change and bought that big candy-filled jar. I wasn’t thinking ahead, the ride home took twice as long trying to pedal and balance the jar on my handlebars. But I eventually made it and on Christmas day Mom (Nana) couldn’t believe I remembered that jar.
Funny sidebar: thirty years later my wife Molly and I were at Nana’s house for Christmas. Molly saw a candy jar and reached in for a stick. Nana said, 'Uh, you probably don’t want to eat that.' Yes! It was the same candy jar filled with the same candy. She put it out every Christmas. I can’t believe its contents had never been raided by ants.
Anyway, we lost Mom a couple of years ago. A Gift for Nana was the only book I’ve written that was not a struggle. It seemed to write itself and I only realized halfway into it that I was retelling that Christmas candy story but with a giant carrot instead of a giant candy jar and with a rabbit filling in for Nana. The mind is a weird thing."
You've once said that it's the best time ever for kid's books. "Now, it’s kind of a given that books not be too sugary and have a nice design and look." One perfect example, in my opinion: A Perfect Day. What are some other picture books that you think define what you've described? "Thanks for mentioning A Perfect Day. It’s a favorite book of mine. Well, I would not limit it to a specific book but the folks who I think are doing consistently handsome, smart books, the folks whose new books I always check out are (off the top of my head):
Bob Shea, Phil Stead, Kadir Nelson, Julie Fogliano, Jory John, Sergio Ruzzier, Laurie Keller, Corinna Luyken, Peter Sis, Juana Martinez-Neal, Erin Stead, Christian Robinson, Kate DiCamillo, Sydney Smith, Jon Klassen, Kevin Henkes, Mac Barnett, Carson Ellis, Julie Morstad, Loren Long…
I know I am leaving out a lot of folks and will hear about it later."
What do you think the best picture books do? Is there a book that you think does this
particularly well? "I will buy a book with great illustrations even if the story is not so great. I rarely buy a book with a great story but mediocre art. I guess that’s why they call them picture books. But the best books have both great art, story, and if you are really lucky, design. Those books are rare if you ask me. This leads into your next question…"
What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future?
"Chez Bob by Bob Shea
When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
Nicky and Vera by Peter Sis
Just a few recent ones that come to mind."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?
"Well, any website called Max’s Boat has to start with Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice
Sendak. In my opinion, still the greatest marriage ever of perfect pictures and perfect words.
Other Best Picks are:
Swimmy by Leo Lionni
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. (Actually, every Steig book.)
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst and Erik Blegvad
Aesop’s Fables selected and adapted by Louis Untermeyer, with pictures by Alice and Martin Provensen
Arnie the Donut by Laurie Keller
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson
The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide and Edward Gorey
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
I could easily add another 20 books to that list."
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I don’t have access to the trades and try not to look at industry blogs so I don’t really know what is coming up but one book that I do know about and one that I have been waiting for and that I finally got my hands on yesterday is The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen. A book about my favorite illustrators of all time. Their work is glorious and the book features a lot of original art. Amazing.
(My only quibble: the work is reproduced so small. It’s like looking at an exhibition catalog. I literally used a magnifying glass to study the beautiful textures and brushstrokes. Fact is, only art lovers, fellow illustrators and animators will be buying this book so why not issue it in a large format at twice the price?"
Do you have a favorite bookstore and / or library? "I am lucky to live near a great bookstore: The Hickory Stick in Washington Depot, CT. It’s a quaint little shop with a fantastic children’s book section run by really smart and friendly people. If anyone ever wants a signed book by me call them up. Next time I have to run to town for bread or birdseed I will be happy to pop in The Stick and doodle one up.
My favorite library would have to be the one I carry in my memory. It was in Corona, California in the 1960s and I can still close my eyes and walk its carpets. I can go left to find Eleanor Cameron’s Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I can go right to find Ray Bradbury’s books. In the back are How to Draw books and in the 500s of the Dewey Decimal System, lots of books on animals. I grew up in that library."
When four swamp creatures looking to cross a river come upon a log that would allow for precisely that, they can’t believe their luck. But a questionable tail adjacent to that log gives them second thoughts.
Pick by Drew Beckmeyer, The Long Island:
SOMEWHERE IN THE BAYOU
By Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
Publisher: Norton Young Readers (March 1, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Somewhere in the Bayou?
Jarrett: "It started as a conversation we were having back in 2019 about assumptions and implicit bias. It went something like this.
We were talking about these stories that were all over the news at the time. They were all the same: first, someone assumed the worst of someone else, then they acted on that assumption, and then, uniformly, it all backfired in explosive fashion. Sadly, the incidents were occurring with such frequency, it had become almost comedic.
Speaking figuratively and asking rhetorically, I said, 'how many times do these people need to get smacked in the face before they learn their lesson.'
Jerome answered literally. 'Probably, like, three times. Rule of three and all.'
We both laughed and then wrote a book about it.
The story takes place in a bayou reminiscent of those we saw growing up in Southeast Texas, where the people are as diverse as the wildlife. We couldn’t think of a better setting or a better cast of characters for a story about a bunch of different animals whose assumptions about a tail get them into h̶o̶t̶ swampy water."
For those who love Somewhere in the Bayou, can you recommend a few other titles you think they might also enjoy, and why?
Jerome: "There are two we can think of that explore their respective topics with humor and without being didactic or too tidy in the end. We also love them for their distinctive art.
Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen"
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future?
"It’s a great time for picture books. Some contemporary books sure to be long-term favorites: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead, Crown by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James, Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe, The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "There are so many books we love for so many different reasons, so many books that are the best at what they do, that this sort of question is always a hard one to answer. Apart from all the books we’ve already mentioned, here’s a list of some we think are the best at something that we always keep close to hand:
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
A Polar Bear in the Snow by Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson
Layla’s Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie and Ashleigh Corrin
Freight Train by Donald Crews
The Ranger by Nancy Vo
Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
Do you have a favorite bookstore?
Jarrett: "This question is kind of like asking us to pick a favorite child. We have several favorites, all for their own reasons. Our favorite hometown bookstore is Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. We don’t get to see them in person much, but they get most of our online orders. Our favorite 'big indie' is Book People in Austin. If we need something fast, we can always count on them to have it in stock. Our small town favorite is Lark & Owl Booksellers in Georgetown. It’s the perfect place to pop in when you want to find something new to read but you have no idea what that might be. One thing they all have in common is that they’ve all been so incredibly and generously supportive of our work. They’ve also all got life-long customers in the Pumphrey brothers."