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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Carrie Finison, HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE, TIME FOR SCHOOL!

It's the first day of school and Little Tortoise is ready with a backpack filled with new school supplies. Little Tortoise can't wait to get to school and tries very hard not to be the last student there. But soon Cheetah, Llama, and even a snail on a scooter, overtake her.

Max's Boat Pick:


Written by Carrie Finison and illustrated by Erin Kraan

Publisher: Random House Studio (July 19, 2022)

Can you tell me the origin story behind Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School! I'm curious if you meant it as a sly wink to parents? (I'm always trying to hurry my girls out the door so they're not late to school, while they have no concept of time nor sense of urgency!) CF: "Yes! As a parent, I felt like I was (and still am) constantly telling my kids, 'Hurry!' especially on school mornings. Even on mornings when I’d really like to slow down and relax, it’s hard to manage that anxiety around being on time. When they were in elementary school it was especially difficult because our walk was completely uphill, so speeding up if we were late wasn’t all that easy. In the book, all the different characters that tell Little Tortoise to hurry are really me, telling my kids to hurry! Of course, the fact that they were slower than tortoises crossed my mind frequently, and that’s how the character got started."

For those who love Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School! can you recommend some titles that you think they might also enjoy? "I think fans of Little Tortoise would also like Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey and Kelly Collier, because of the funny dynamic between speedy Squirrel and the much slower-paced Sloth.

Readers might also like another recent release that was illustrated by Erin Kraan — Mouse Calls, written by Anne Marie Pace, about a mouse warning her neighbors about a coming storm. Erin’s style is so distinctive and she has a fascinating woodcut printing process that you can see more of by following her Instagram account @erin_kraan."

The back-to-school book is its own behemoth genre. Are there any back-to-school books that you think are done particularly well? "I was always a little hesitant to read my kids books about kids who are nervous for the first day of school, because I didn’t want to compound their feelings and/or make them feel like they should be nervous when they weren’t feeling that way. Why borrow trouble? But one that we loved reading was Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff. It’s fun, and also good perspective-taking, to imagine what the teacher and all the other kids in the class are doing to get ready for school, just like you are.

Another one that came out just as my son was starting school was Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein. I think a good laugh is called for in anxious situations, and that book delivers tons of humor in both the text and illustrations.

Among newer titles, I really love Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Luisa Uribe. I’m someone who has a different legal first name than the name I go by, and so the first day of school was always hard for me because I had to speak up and explain my name to teachers. Some teachers never seemed to remember and needed to be reminded often in the first few weeks. So I can empathize with kids who are in a similar position. It’s hard when you have to correct a teacher!

And, for a different story of tortoises and the first day of school, I absolutely love Truman by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins, which features a little tortoise trying to cope with his emotions as his beloved owner heads off to school."

Who are some other writers that you admire? "There are so many picture book creators I admire, it’s hard to pick just a few, but there are some whose body of work stands out to me and I get excited every time I hear they have a new book coming out. I love Ame Dyckman’s books for their humor and simplicity of language. Most recently Dandy, illustrated by Charles Santoso had me laughing out loud in the bookstore aisle.

Oge Mora is another creator whose work stands out to me. Her writing style feels classic and elegant, and

straightforward in a way that doesn’t talk down to the reader. And I love her vibrant, collage-style illustrations. Her book Thank You, Omu! came out around the same time as my book Dozens of Doughnuts and has a similar storyline and theme, but the two are very different. I love using that as an example of how book creators can do quite different things with the same basic idea.

Other titles I’ve loved recently are Your Mama by NoNieqa Ramos and Jacqueline Alcántara – the inventive language and wordplay is incredible; Amah Faraway by Margaret Chiu Greanias and Tracy Subisak – the author makes use of a mirror structure that will blow your mind; and in non-fiction, A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything by Kirsten W. Larson and Katy Wu – I love how the book uses the language and format of comics to tell the story of how Wonder Woman came to be.

And, two books that made me laugh out loud – Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts, and Chester Van Chime Who Forgot How to Rhyme by Avery Monson and Abby Hanlon."

Are there any upcoming books that you're most looking forward to reading? "I’m excited about a few books coming in 2023! I love Beth Ferry’s books which range from laugh-out-loud funny (Land Shark) to poignant (The Scarecrow), so I’m looking forward to seeing her new one, The Umbrella, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, which is written in very short rhyming verse.

I’m also excited about B Is for Bananas, by Carrie Tillotson and Estrela Lourenço, the sequel to Counting to Bananas, which came out this year. That book cracked me up with its silly main character, Banana, who just wants to be in the spotlight.

In nonfiction, I’m looking forward to Make Way: The Story of Robert McCloskey, Nancy Schon, and Some Very Famous Ducklings by Angela Burke Kunkel and Claire Keane. I loved Robert McCloskey’s books growing up, and since I live in the Boston area, I remember when Nancy Schon’s statue was installed and love how it has grown to be a landmark for Bostonians.

I’m also very much looking forward to just browsing in bookstores in 2023. We went through such a long period of stores being mostly closed for browsing, although they did a terrific job of helping customers,making deliveries, setting up curbside pickups, and so much more during the heart of the pandemic. But there’s something about the serendipity of browsing the shelves that can’t be replicated online. I’m excited for the new book discoveries I’ll make!"


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