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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Drew Beckmeyer, DEAR WILD CHILD

In the shade of ancient redwood trees, by a creek, not far from the ocean, a father builds a house for his newborn daughter, where she grows up wild and strong in their coastal canyon home. When a wildfire takes back their beloved house, a father writes his now-grown daughter a letter telling her it’s gone.

Max's Boat Pick:

DEAR WILD CHILD: You Carry Your Home Inside You

Written by Wallace J. Nichols and Wallace Grayce Nichols

Illustrated by Drew Beckmeyer

Publisher: Cameron Kids (August 9, 2022)

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What was it about this project that drew you in? Living in California, do you have an innate fear of wildfires? DB: "Ah yeah. My family and I actually have a 100-year-old cabin outside of Yosemite, in Mariposa, that we are very slowly refurbishing. I clear about five acres of our property every year myself, and as I’m writing this the biggest wildfire this year is burning a little less than two miles away. So I’m familiar with the stresses of it all and Wallace’s story felt very personal to me."

Your artwork totally nailed it. Poring through the book makes me wistful for the rustic, back-to-nature childhood I didn't have (I grew up in Manhattan). How did you approach the illustrations? What medium did you choose? "I feel pretty comfortable doing nature illustrations. It’s almost cathartic, because like you I’m based in a big city most of the time. I used crayon and watercolor. I like the limitations of crayons and how straightforward they are - like, you can’t really blend anything and they are so thick you can’t get obsessed with detail. Watercolor is interesting to use as well, because you can get the little waxy resist things that happen."

That house is one I'd love to live in. I'm curious how true to the real house it was? Did you work off photos? Or did you have wide latitude to envision your own house? "I never saw the real house, and still haven’t. For the exterior shots we treated it almost as if the house had grown out of the ground. I think that was probably the art director Melissa Greenberg's idea. For the interiors they let me basically do whatever I wanted, so I modeled it on our cabin, not really intentionally but more because I’m so familiar with it. Many of the items that are described in the book, like feathers and rocks and bones, we also have collected and have around our place. My dad pulled a bobcat carcass out of the creek, and I was learning how to clean those bones while doing these illustrations. So there is a bobcat skull on a shelf in there somewhere."

As an elementary school teacher, are there certain books on climate change or protecting the environment that you use in your classroom? "Well, I teach art and design and makerspacery construction things so my class is more of a doing zone. We do, however, talk about sustainability and work on projects based around conservation and the impacts of our current system on the natural world and each other."

Are there other picture books on climate change or protecting the environment that you love? "Not really. It’s not something I actively search out. When I look at picture books as an adult, I’m really either looking to admire new and interesting stories and ways to tell stories or look at some good illustrations. A heavy handed message isn’t my favorite thing, and though I recognize picture books are great teaching tools, I don’t believe they should ever be only that. I'm sure someone somewhere is doing some really nuanced and cool bookmaking about climate change; I just am not familiar."

Who are the (picture book) illustrators working today, or working in the past, that you most admire? "This is another one that I'm gonna blow because I'll inevitably forget so many cool illustrators. I'm drawn to illustrative styles that feel like they came more out of the art world than the animation world (or even the picture book world). So people like ....Marika Maijala, Shawn Harris, Sydney Smith, Anastacia Sholik, Kitty Crowther, Cátia Chien, and Cristina Sitja Rubio take some really admirable and daring risks in their art...

I'm inspired by illustrators who have a style that is almost like a quiet rebellion against what a picture book 'should' look like. It's where I would like to see my own work go or go further."

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

"Ballad by Blexbolex

Anything Margaret Wise Brown or Richard Scarry

Round Trip by Ann Jonas

Fortunately by Remy Charlip

Space Case by Edward Marshall and James Marshall

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More by Johanna Schaible

Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel"

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