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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Carter Higgins, BIG AND SMALL AND IN-BETWEEN

This wide, wonderful world contains many things. Some things are as big as a family of bears; some are as small as a reflection in a puddle. Some things are felt rather than seen. In between it all is . . . you. What kinds of things will you collect?


Written by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Published by Chronicle Books (April 12, 2022)

Can you tell me the origin story behind Big and Small and In-Between?

CH: "For a very long time, my working title for this book was A Collection of Things, which is exactly what it was. I drafted this bit by bit over the late months of 2016, one three-line stanza at a time. The election cycle was bleak and draining. I was still working as a school librarian which was equal parts rewarding and exhausting. Stealing time here and there to squeeze out a little vignette was all I could create.

At first, it was a list of small things that made me happy. I wasn’t necessarily intent on these scratchy poems becoming a book, but it slowly started to take shape: here’s this list of small things, and the list is getting pretty big.

Well, what about small feelings, thoughts, or moments? Not just things. And just as the list of small things was starting to feel big, what would a small list of big things feel like? What about big feelings, thoughts, and moments? And if small moments can feel big, can big moments feel small?

After establishing the bookends of big and small, in-between was a very satisfying middle. I think it’s a book you can read from front to back, from big to small—but it’s also a book made up of very important moments you can flip to and sit with for a while."

For those who love Big and Small and In-Between, can you recommend a few other picture books that you think they might also enjoy?

"Some of my all-time favorite books are A Hole Is to Dig by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak, Do You See What I See? by Helen Borten, and Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney.

And I’m seeing now, for the first time, how connected Big and Small and In-Between is to this history. Look at that list: a book that celebrates how kids catalog and think about things, how visuals make us feel, and a magical tribute to childhood and imagination."

We're certainly living in a golden age of picture books, but are we living in a golden age of conceptual picture books? What are some other conceptual picture books you love?

"Conceptual picture books feel like such a natural extension of how kids interact with their world. Do you need a beginning, middle, and end to scrunch down and intensely study a roly-poly bug for a few quiet, magical minutes? Or marvel at a particular shade of magenta? Not really. But there’s a bigness to that experience, right? Kids are incredibly adept at understanding something mundane that actually isn’t at all. An experience is a narrative for them.

Two books I love that do this beautifully are Is Was by Deborah Freedman and Time is a Flower by Julie Morstad.

The design of Big and Small and In-Between is certainly a necessary partner that supports its conceptual narrative. It’s atypical in both page count and trim size and has four spectacular spreads with unfolding-paper-engineering. (I don’t want to know if there’s an actual term for that!) I’m always drawn to picture books that play with their physicality. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith and Round Trip by Ann Jonas have remained incredibly formative for me."

You spent 10 years as a school librarian. How did you go about choosing your collection? I'm also curious how your time as a librarian shaped how you approach making picture books?

"School libraries are a living, breathing collection, incredibly specific to the community which they serve. Collection development (including the weeding!) was always one of my favorite parts of the job. Librarians make so many decisions: who are my patrons? Who aren’t they and how can I make sure they see they aren’t the only people in this world? What can I acquire that supports and extends the curriculum? What can I acquire that kids might otherwise not see because of the curriculum?

My elementary school librarian introduced me to Round Trip, and there’s a direct line from my first grade self to making books today.

Sometimes I wonder if a storytime on a random Tuesday was foundational to a kid’s whole entire life. I’m unlikely to know, and maybe they won’t for many years either! But picture books can be sticky like that."

What do you think the best picture books do? Is there a book that you think does this particularly well?

"The best picture books are keenly aware of the child reader, whether that means speaking their language, honoring the reality of their experiences, or observing with close-up precision what matters to them.

Books I love that do one (or more) of these well are Float by Daniel Miyares, I’ll Fix Anthony by Judith Viorst and Arnold Lobel, and The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson. I love the way Tana Hoban’s books of photography do the same thing visually, particularly Look Again! and Shadows and Reflections."

What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future?

"Okay, this is so difficult and we could discuss it for days, right? I hope readers many years from now are clutching beloved copies of Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora, Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris, and Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?

"My shelves might already be sagging with the books I’ve mentioned above, but I can’t make a list like that without Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni, A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and Marc Simont, Fortunately by Remy Charlip, and Clocks and More Clocks by Pat Hutchins."

What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading?

"I am very much looking forward to To Make by Danielle Davis and Mags DeRoma. I’m positive it’s going to hit the sweet spot of everything I love: sparkly language, observant and true, a visual treat that celebrates childhood."

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