Updated: Aug 24
As a young bunny is carried by his mother home in the dark night, he sees lights in the windows, and hears and smells what his neighbors might be doing: talking on the phone, pulling a pie out of the oven, having a party, saying goodbye. As the bunny's father tucks him into bed, the bunny continues to wonder about his neighbors' activities in this dreamlike tale.
THE WAY HOME IN THE NIGHT
Written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi
Publisher: Kids Can Press (April 4, 2017)
What inspired you to write The Way Home in the Night? AM: "I used to live in Berlin. There, I saw many homes through the windows. Most of the windows didn't have a curtain (it's different in Japan!) and I could see many kinds of life. It looked sometimes dramatic or melancholic or sympathetic. I imagined many lives in them. It was impressive and I drew some pictures of what I saw, for example, someone calling by a building window or someone looking out a train window. This story was started from those pictures."
Do you have any other favorite picture books that explore the nighttime? "Goodnight Moon, written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, describes directly the tender atmosphere and feelings which cannot be told by words. I think this book shows childhood happiness and is close to The Way Home in the Night in this way. Chris Van Allsburg, who wrote and illustrated The Polar Express, is one of my favorite authors. His illustrations are really powerful and draw me into his imagined world. I can enjoy his fantasy world so vividly with all of its high technology. Every time I open the pages, I can feel the excitement of the special day and the smell of winter."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Dawn by Uri Shulevitz is the book that inspired me to draw a picture book before I went to art university. I found this book at the bookstore near my school and it changed my image of a picture book completely. I used to think picture books were only for kids. But Dawn showed how picture books can have universal expressions, including for kids. I love the beautiful and quiet moments in this book."
Updated: Aug 24
When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the wary townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. But what happens when the greedy circus owner returns to claim the animals?
THE CIRCUS SHIP
Written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Publisher: Candlewick (September 22, 2009)
I love that The Circus Ship is based on a historical event. You also wonderfully illustrated President Taft is Stuck in the Bath, written by Mac Barnett. Are there any other picture books you love that are based (however loosely) on historical events? CVD:"I love picture books based on true historical events, especially strange and unusual events, but they are few and far between. That’s why I was so excited when I read about The Royal Tar, the steamship that caught fire off the coast of Maine on which I based The Circus Ship. A couple books that come to mind that are based on actual events are Letting the Swift River Go by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, and Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond."
Riel Nason called out your incredible double-page spread with the animals hiding around the town. Can you tell me more about that spread? "It’s funny, because I almost didn’t include that spread in the book. I thought what if kids find the animals the first time and then on the second or third or fifth or 30th time they read it, that illustration just becomes boring. I didn’t foresee that it would be exactly the opposite. It’s the spread that’s most mentioned in that book. In a way, I think it’s almost an empowering image for young children. Even though they may have found the animals a number of times, they still feel like they have observation skills that Mr. Paine doesn’t, and find joy in one-upping the villain."
You have such a distinctive illustration style. Are there any other illustrators you admire for their distinctive style? "There are so many illustrators whose work I admire (from Adam Rex and Christian Robinson to Robert McCloskey and P.D. Eastman) that it’s hard to pick just one. I would undoubtedly leave someone I love out, and I would hate to do that. So I’ll mention an illustrator that maybe people might not be as familiar with - Mark Buehner. He often illustrates stories by his wife, Caralyn, and people may know their Snowmen books (Snowmen at Night, Snowmen at Work). But their book, Fanny's Dream, is probably my favorite. It’s a wonderful story and the illustrations are gorgeous. Mark also illustrated Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm, written by Jerdine Nolen, which is also amazing."
What do you think the best picture books do? "I think the best picture books take you to a place you’ve never been and/or show you something you’ve never seen. Probably the best example of this is the classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. A more current example is The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by the Fan Brothers. I also think the best picture books make you want to read them over and over. One of the best compliments I can receive is when a parent tells me that after they had finished reading one of my books to their child, the child responds, 'Again!'"
What are some of your favorite classic picture books? "The classic picture books are classic for a reason - they’re so good. Some classics I still go back to are One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. But there are so many more. Some more recent books that I think (or hope) will become classics are Terrific by Jon Agee, Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, Flotsam by David Wiesner, Small in the City by Sydney Smith, Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall, School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen... I could go on and on and on…."
What was your favorite picture book as a child? "My favorite picture book as a child was probably Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man by Robert McCloskey. Not so much for the writing, but definitely for the illustrations, which are stunning! That book definitely takes you someplace you’ve never been before!"
Do you remember what you loved reading to your kids? "One book I remember that I loved reading aloud to my sons is Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm, which I mentioned before. It’s written in an easy conversational style and I loved adding a Southern accent when I read it. Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman and Trash Trucks! by Daniel Kirk were favorites, too. And my wife loved to read In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "I think all the books I mentioned above would make my top 100 picture books of all time. And I think if I had to name my number one favorite picture book of all time, I’d go back to a classic, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. It just might be the perfect picture book."
Updated: Oct 7
Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But on today's ride, CJ is full of questions. Why don't they own a car like his friend? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see unexpected beauty and joy.
Pick by Sophie Gilmore, TERRIFIC!:
LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET
Written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (January 8, 2015)
What inspired you to write LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET? MDLP: "A lot of people think the book is about a grandmother teaching her grandson how to see the beauty of his city. But for me it's always been about a grandmother trying to teach her grandson how to see himself as beautiful. I really love the special relationship between a child and his/her grandparent. Christian is a genius. I'm so lucky that I get to give my simple, sometimes slightly melancholic texts to him. He transforms them into picture books by infusing joy and whimsy."
You've mentioned that with LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, you set out to write a story featuring diverse characters and a storyline that wasn’t focused (at least overtly), on diversity. That's such a fine line to straddle. Are there any other picture books that you think do this especially well? "In America, it seems like race and class hover over everything we read and write. But writers can calibrate how close they want to get to the flame. There's definitely a time and place for books that are ABOUT race or class, but lately I've found myself gravitating to books that are a little less direct. Two diverse picture books that I'm currently obsessed with are: DRAWN TOGETHER by Minh Lê and Dan Santat (brilliant exploration of assimilation from the perspective of a boy who is spending the day with his immigrant grandfather) and ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME by Juana Martinez-Neal (about a girl who is exhausted by all her middle names, until her father explains the significance of each one)."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "My all-time favorite picture book in the history of the world is EACH KINDNESS by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis. The books ends on regret. I still can't get over how brave it is to end a picture book on regret. And how powerful the experience is for young readers. This book taught me so much about what is possible in the medium."
What do you think the best picture books do? "I think the best picture books exist in the world of childhood. They honor child psychology. They take kids seriously, but they're also playful. They have heart. They are economical. And musical. They are both surprising and inevitable. They reflect the real world while also offering escape. They are complex and mysterious but also quite simple. They are humble. And most importantly, they understand that at their very best they are a vehicle to conversation. They are a reason for a child to be close to a parent and a parent to be close to a child."