Interviews

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)

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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."

Love can feel as vast as a sky full of breathtaking clouds or as gentle as a sparkling, starlit night. It can scale the tallest mountains and reach the deepest depths of the sea. Standing side by side with someone you love, the unimaginable can seem achievable. But not every magical moment is extraordinary. Simply being together is the best journey of all.


Max's Boat Pick:


LET'S DO EVERYTHING AND NOTHING

By Julia Kuo

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (March 22, 2022)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Let's Do Everything and Nothing? Your book seems especially poignant given how so many families are on the go all the time. (It seems to be an affliction of modern parenting!) I love how it's a reminder to cherish what's most important—and that sometimes doing nothing can be quite necessary as well. Was that the starting point?


JK: "That’s a good guess, and I love that connection! The inspiration was actually a big trip I had planned with my then-boyfriend Albert to do a guided climb of Mt. Rainier. We trained hard for half a year, made it up to the top, and afterwards we enjoyed complete satisfaction in the emptiness of having nothing left to plan for. Albert is now my husband, and he is the very necessary 'nothing' half to my 'everything' personality! Being together has taught me about the importance of rest and finding contentment. I think this book helped me to process that being with the person you love, no matter who they are, is truly the greatest joy; that it can even inspire us to find new parts of ourselves."

You've illustrated a ton of books, but Let's Do Everything and Nothing is your author-illustrator debut. Did you find this more or less challenging? How did the process differ?

"I think most would imagine that the art and text can work together more harmoniously when they’re created by one person, and that is true! But I was surprised to come across quite a few other differences.



As an illustrator, I am hired into the editorial pipeline with the expectation that I will find a successful artistic vision for the book. I didn’t always have the benefit of that trust; in the past, I would submit samples to see if I could 'win' the illustrator spot. But these days there’s less upfront work; I receive a book request and I either accept or reject the project. 



As an author-illustrator, I need to sell both the art and the text from the very beginning. The artistic vision needs to be there as early as the dummy that I put together to show to my agent, who will then pitch it to editors. In this way there’s more upfront work and uncertainty, and that seems to be the payoff for having more creative control over the entire story. 




I also discovered that it’s much lonelier to be an author-illustrator! I have truly loved being paired with the authors of my books. They write stories that I would have never come up with in a million years. In this way, my creative freedom as an author-illustrator can sometimes feel limiting. And I really miss having a partner for the book launch and marketing events. It’s always so much more fun to have a companion… which brings us back to the idea behind Let’s Do Everything and Nothing! ;)"



For those who love Let's Do Everything and Nothing, can you recommend a few other picture books that you think they might also enjoy?


"Tiny, Perfect Things by M. H. Clark and Madeline Kloepper - This book is all about delighting in mundane everyday things, like the joy of finding a red bottle cap. It draws a similar conclusion to Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, that the most precious of discoveries is companionship! 'The world is full of perfect things when you come look with me.'




The Night Walk by Marie Dorléans - We experience the wonder of a family’s tranquil nighttime walk. They stay in familiar surroundings (their village and the nearby woods), but the darkness gives their small adventure an ethereal, otherworldly quality. Walk With Me by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng - This one might be a bit of a surprise, although the text is also centered around seemingly mundane events. It’s about a little girl who creates a make-believe friend to stand by her side through a life full of challenges and roughness. There are no beautiful mountains and there is no time for self-satisfied relaxation in this book; instead, we see a child’s intense desire for companionship."


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


"It's daunting to make a list like that, but here are a few that I've treasured!


Time Is A Flower by Julie Morstad


Sakamoto’s Swim Club by Julie Abery and Chris Sasaki 
 Issun Boshi: The One-Inch Boy by Mayumi Otero and Raphael Urwiller Inside Outside by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Arégui"

What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading?


"I am so excited to read A Lotus For You in fall 2022, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Càtia Chien. I heard about the book from Minh a while back, and I think it was the first time I’d ever heard of Thich Nhat Hanh. Over the next year, I couldn’t stop coming across him. I learned that my uncle and aunt are devout Buddhists who follow his writing. Independently of them, my husband came across his teachings and started reading one of his books. I feel as if the universe is preparing me to meet this book."

Some of us like the comfort of familiarity—staying close to the home we've always known, making a life, building a community. For some, the intimacy of the old routine is satisfaction itself. But the known is not for everyone. When our 5 protagonists get to wondering what's on the other side of their island, they can't stop until they find out.

Pick by Il Sung Na, The Dreamer:


THE LONG ISLAND

By Drew Beckmeyer

Publisher: Chronicle Books (April 3, 2018)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind The Long Island?

DB: "The Long Island started with a night of insomnia. I wanted to see if I could come up with and fully illustrate a story before the morning. I used crayons to keep it as simple and as fast as I could. I wasn’t thinking of it as a book then. I didn’t have an agent and I wasn’t looking for picture book work, but I finished the basic draft of it all and I actually kind of liked it, which was a surprise. I have some friends from my illustrator days who work in publishing, so I showed it to them and eventually Taylor Norman at Chronicle saw it and reached out to me. Originally, the page count was I think in the nineties, and the story was even more meandering than it ended up, with all the drawings at different sizes. But together, we worked to make it more of a publishable thing, and she was then somehow able to sell Chronicle on it. It never got shopped around or anything. I sorta thought that was the normal process until I had another book idea later and realized it doesn’t usually work that way.


In terms of the story itself, I have always liked thinking about the names of places… especially ones so ubiquitous that you forget what the words in the name mean. So, originally it was just 'Long Island' which sort of led to the 'What if there was an island so long that the inhabitants had never seen the other side?'"


64 pages! How did that come about? Do you think picture books should be longer than the standard 32 pages? Are there any other longer picture books that you think work well? "Yeah, again that was sort of ignorance on my part. I knew picture books were short but I didn’t really think of it as a page count issue. The Long Island is a pretty short story. I mean, it has less words than probably most 32 page books and takes the same amount of time to read, so I thought I had checked the shortness box. If I’m confident in one aspect of my storytelling, it’s in pacing and rhythm.

So that book has a lot of pages where I was trying to give a reader a beat to slow down, breathe and maybe wonder a little bit, but the story itself is not especially long. The people at Chronicle were nice enough to get and support that. I think at one point we had it down to a shorter page count and they decided it worked better longer. It feels a little quieter and mysterious spread out this way.

In terms of longer books, I kind of still think about it the same way (even though I better understand the parameters of the form now). It still seems a little silly to limit a story by page count. If anything it feels like word count should be the thing. There are a lot of really short page count books that are a real slog to get through because they are so wordy and there are some longer ones written more economically that I think work great. The most recent example I can think of is The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder. It also has my favorite illustrations of 2021 in it, by Cátia Chien. But honestly, it's not something I ever think about when I'm reading a picture book, unless it starts to feel like a drag of a reading experience, then I might check."




For those who love The Long Island, can you recommend a few other titles that you think they might also enjoy? "Haha, I think that might be a small club. I think that tonally it’s maybe more in line with a lot of European picture books. I guess I’d direct people to places like Flying Eye. Maybe Millions of Cats? (That’s half a joke)."

Are there any other philosophical picture books you love? "I generally admire Leo Lionni’s philosophical tone. Frog and Toad conversations definitely."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Ballad by Blexbolex Anything Margaret Wise Brown or Richard Scarry Round Trip by Ann Jonas Fortunately by Remy Charlip

Space Case by Edward Marshall and James Marshall We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More by Johanna Schaible Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel" This is REALLY hard, and as soon as I hit send, 30 more will pop into my head."

What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I actually don’t follow kid’s book publishing that closely and am usually late to find out what cool things are being made. I’m still a school teacher most of the time. I think that the Pumphrey Brothers have one coming out this year, but it's just random that I know that. Anyway, all their stuff is really well done and admirable. I'm a big fan of anything laboriously handmade."