Interview with Ali Bahrampour, MONSTERS IN THE FOG
Hakim is traveling up the mountain to visit his friend Daisy, but the fog is so thick that he can't see the road ahead. Then an old goat appears out of nowhere and delivers a sinister warning: “Beware! Beware! There are monsters up there!”
Max's Boat Pick:
MONSTERS IN THE FOG
By Ali Bahrampour
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (June 14, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Monsters in the Fog? Is it in response to the current political climate, or is it based off of a traditional Iranian saying, or...?
AB: "The story wasn't written in response to the current political climate. People fearing what they don't know is an evergreen theme, alas. I wrote down the basic idea years ago in a notebook and only got to it now. It's not based on a traditional Iranian saying either, though come to think of it, you probably could get great picture book ideas from proverbs. My father used to teach us Iranian proverbs and we would try to figure out what they meant or find an English equivalent. The one that pops into mind right now is "The lid of the pot is open. Where is the cat's shame?" I remember my sisters and me puzzling over that one for a while."
Can you tell me how some details from Iran, specifically where you grew up, come through in the book?
"The mountains that Hakim the donkey (or more accurately Persian onager) climbs are the mountains my father took us to for hiking trips. Likewise the samovar and evil eye and saddlebag are things that were around when I was growing up."
"It's hard to knit a sweater with your hooves, but Hakim somehow did it." What a memorable first line. Are there any other memorable first lines that stand out to you? "Charlotte's Web isn't a picture book, technically, but surely: "'Where's Papa going with that axe?' said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast." The first line of Where the Wild Things Are, which stretches over several pages. "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs," from Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies. But a good first line can also be very plain, like "Angela Bowling took her shopping bag and set off for the village," or "Monsieur Racine was a retired tax collector who lived peacefully in a secluded cottage," to pick two opening lines from picture books I love (Loveykins by Quentin Blake, and The Beast of Monsieur Racine by Tomi Ungerer)."
Are there other picture books that you admire for how they tackle the topic of misperceptions?
For those who love Monsters in the Fog, can you recommend one or two other books that you think they might also enjoy?
"Those ones I just mentioned, for sure. Books by Tomi Ungerer and William Steig. George and Martha by James Marshall. I am a huge admirer of James Marshall."
Your work has been likened to that of William Steig and Jon Agee. Are you a big fan of both?
"I love both of them. When it comes to picture books, William Steig is, for me, like Shakespeare. His writing is as great as his drawings. Farmer Palmer's Wagon Ride. Rotten Island. Amos & Boris. Doctor De Soto. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. And on and on. Nowadays they don't publish many picture books like his, with so many words, because there is a misguided idea that picture books are only for very little kids and should have very few words and those kids must quickly graduate to chapter books and go to college and become weapons dealers. Jon Agee I became aware of later, because of my age, but he has a lot of fantastic books, old and recent. I just got his palindromic comic Otto for my son, but also for me."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Any of the ones I mentioned above. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson. Dr. Seuss. Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág. Frog and Toad and Uncle Elephant by Arnold Lobel. Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library. Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs. Ant and Bee and the Rainbow by Angela Banner. Randolph Caldecott. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. La Visite de Petite Mort by Kitty Crowther. Help! Stop me! This is impossible!"
Are there any upcoming books you are most looking forward to reading? "I am excited to read Hot Dog by Doug Salati, which looks wonderful. And No! Said Custard the Squirrel by Sergio Ruzzier, whose art I love and who has made a lot of great picture books (Amandina, for example). I'm looking forward to seeing Maurice by Jessixa Bagley. She's great; her book Boats for Papa was profound."