Interview with Bob Shea, CHEZ BOB
Welcome to Chez Bob, which seems like a real restaurant...until you realize...it's on an alligator's NOSE! Bob's got a hidden plan for his customers: "Birds will come to eat, but I will eat the birds!" But what happens when the birds fly in to dine on Bob's face—and stay?
Max's Boat Pick:
Written and illustrated by Bob Shea
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (September 21, 2021)
What inspired you to write Chez Bob?
"Chez Bob had been an idea in my notebook for years. When I lived in a tiny apartment in Manhattan, the place that did my laundry would always call out my name, “Shea, Bob” and I thought that would be a great name for a fancy French restaurant.
The idea of a lazy alligator is not autobiographical, I am not lazy and probably not an alligator. Selfish, awful characters always interest me, especially if they aren’t very bright. In the case of Chez Bob, it was fun to have Bob’s avian-gluttony run headlong into his desire to make the restaurant a success. Once you contrast the silliness of opening a restaurant on your nose to catch birds with the realities of owning said restaurant, you get a lot of opportunities for absurd, dry humor.
Also, drawing birds is fun."
You're known for your laugh-out loud picture books, and Chez Bob is no exception. Are there other writers you admire for their humor?
"Sergio Ruzzier is the funniest author working today. His Fox and Chick series is funny and completely dry. After seeing an early version, I gave Sergio some suggestions on how I felt it could be improved using my sense of humor as the lens. Mercifully, he ignored me. It’s a great series.
Julie Falatko is relentlessly hilarious and her sometimes partner in crime, Ruth Chan, is also very funny and fun. Also a nice person. Oh and Ruth is a delightful INFP like me. She’s WAY nicer than me, so I think I may have taken the test wrong. What’s a misanthropic INFP? Maybe I’m an LMNOP.
I also like Laurie Keller a lot. We’re really good friends even if she never returns my texts and keeps calling me Tim Miller and asking 'How’s Snappsy?' Her books are smart and ridiculous. Potato Pants is completely absurd. One of my all time favorite children’s books is Arnie the Doughnut. My son used to pull it off the shelf at bedtime just to hear me laugh. He liked it too, obviously. Never took to my books…"
Sneaky villains don't get much love in picture books, do they? Are there any other sneaky villains (besides Bob, of course) that YOU love?
"Oh my gosh, my friend Charise Harper wrote a book called When Randolph Turned Rotten. It’s great. Randolph is a beaver and his friend is a swan. The swan is going to a sleepover and Randolph is rightly jealous and annoyed. So Randolph does everything he can to ruin the trip. He’s so awful."
Do you remember what you loved reading to your son at age 3? At age 5? "I have one son, Ryan. As I mentioned, I would foist a lot of Laurie Keller on him and he avoided my books like the plague. Not really, but once in awhile he’d hand me one of mine to read and I could tell he was just trying to be nice to me. He was four so I saw right through his trick.
He handed me Big Plans, which is my favorite of my books to this day. I looked at him said, “Really buddy, you want to read this?”
He said, “Uh, yeah, maybe we can read one that’s not so boring…”
I started laughing so hard that he thought I was upset. He was being incredibly sweet.
As punishment I made him sit through me reading it twice. Kidding! We read The Polar Express for the millionth time, I’m sure."
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future?
Klassen is another one I can do without. I talk to the guy and sometimes just nod because he said some really smart perceptive thing and I can’t follow along. Fortunately, I diffuse my mental discomfort by suggesting we get ice cream and he’s usually up for it. I can talk about going to get ice cream for hours, so now I look smart. Hope he doesn’t read this and find out my trick.
Lane Smith is one of my best friends. I am not bragging, he just is. We have a nice time gong for hikes or walking around. Then we’ll have lunch and he’ll show me something he’s working on and I’ll think, 'Oh yeah, he’s Lane Smith…'
I’ve only met Christian Robinson once. He was very nice and seemed like a really kind person. Once I realized that I excused myself. Kind people never want to hang around me.
Wait! That’s not true! One of my other favorite authors is Kelly DiPucchio! She is a friend and I see some early versions of her work and they are so wonderfully crafted. Kelly inspires me to stop trying. Just write the Bob Shea™ books. Which I’m sure are fine, I’m not that familiar.
Oh, I forgot! I haven’t seen him in awhile. Greg Pizzoli. His books always have a classic feel to them. So simple and perfect. I hate him, too. Oh, I mean, 'I draw inspiration from his work.'
Who else bugs me, let’s see… so many…
Travis Jonker should hang it up. His simple erudite stories make me feel like I am not doing my best. I don’t like feeling that way. He’s a bad friend.
I’m really getting worked up about these authors, so let me throw an illustrator under the bus.
ZACH OHORA SHOULD STOP PAINTING.
I don’t need to see fully-formed personalities just by looking at his modern characters. Come on!"
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?
"The books of all the people I just mentioned. Along with The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach, Big Rabbit's Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu and Delphine Durand, The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon I’m-not-even-gonna-try-and-spell-his-last-name and Lane Smith, anything by Roger Duvoisin, Monkey Business and the Mr. Lunch books by Vivian Walsh and J.otto Seibold. So many more, but I’m getting pretty tired."