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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Monica Arnaldo, ARE YOU A CHEESEBURGER?

Grub is a lonely raccoon. Seed is, well, a seed! When the two meet, Grub asks the world's most important question: Could you grow cheeseburgers?

Max's Boat Pick: Are You A Cheeseburger?

Written and illustrated by Monica Arnaldo

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins (June 1, 2021)

What inspired you to write Are You A Cheeseburger? "The initial idea came from a phone call with my dad, during which he complained about raccoons digging up his front yard, and it occurred to me that a story about a raccoon gardener might be fun. But after a few early versions that were very sweet and very boring, it became clear that there wasn’t enough there yet for a whole book, so I set it aside and went to work on another project called Time for Bed’s Story. As it turns out, you can’t work on a picture book about a talking bed for a year without it fundamentally shifting how you look at characters and voice—so by the time I picked up my raccoon story again, I realized the seed would surely have something to say about the whole situation and had to become a character in his own right. After that everything started to fall into place really organically and I realized that this was going to be a story about the nature of friendship, and how relationships change as we grow. And cheeseburgers. And then by that point of course so much time had passed that my first child was born, which opened up a whole other angle about parenting and expectations that I think was the last piece of the puzzle."

Are there any picture books you would recommend for their take on parenting? "One of my favorites that touches on parenting and expectations, and then flips that narrative on its head, is Wild by Emily Hughes. Besides being an absolutely gorgeous book, I love that the main character knows who she is from the start and it’s the adults in the book who have to learn (the hard way) that their expectations for her are unreasonable. It’s one of those books that’s just pure genius and you can get something different out of it with every re-read, but I do find myself coming back to that great sort of cautionary tale aspect again and again. Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe also does a beautiful and hilarious job of showing parents surrendering to their child’s authentic self."

What’s the picture book that inspired you to get into picture books? "Spork by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault was the first picture book I bought for myself as an adult. I was in my last year of college studying illustration, and when I came across it I had that wonderful and rare feeling where you’re sure the book must have been created in a lab for you specifically. The words and the art just work together so perfectly and the story is beautiful and clever and poignant. I remember thinking making something like that would be a dream job."

Are there any hidden picture book gems you would like to recommend and why? "I’m not sure how hidden it is, but I’ll take any opportunity to talk about how much I love The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt by Riel Nason and Byron Eggenschwiler. The cover stopped me in my tracks at the bookstore, and happily the writing is just as gorgeous. It’s such a fresh take on the usual self-acceptance story, filled with nuance and humor—and Halloween!! I mean, what more can you ask of a book, really?"

If you have kids and are reading them picture books, what’s the one book that gets the most love in your house? "Our daughter is pretty good about switching things up and trying new books, but I’d say that out of her whole collection, Hug Machine by Scott Campbell features pretty heavily in the bedtime story rotation. She loves books that provide an opportunity to join in (loudly) with a refrain—which Hug Machine absolutely delivers—and we never pass up a chance for extra cuddles, so it’s very much a family favorite."


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