- Ratha Tep
Interview with Drew Beckmeyer, THE LONG ISLAND
Some of us like the comfort of familiarity—staying close to the home we've always known, making a life, building a community. For some, the intimacy of the old routine is satisfaction itself. But the known is not for everyone. When our 5 protagonists get to wondering what's on the other side of their island, they can't stop until they find out.
Pick by Il Sung Na, The Dreamer:
THE LONG ISLAND
By Drew Beckmeyer
Publisher: Chronicle Books (April 3, 2018)
Can you tell me the origin story behind The Long Island?
DB: "The Long Island started with a night of insomnia. I wanted to see if I could come up with and fully illustrate a story before the morning. I used crayons to keep it as simple and as fast as I could. I wasn’t thinking of it as a book then. I didn’t have an agent and I wasn’t looking for picture book work, but I finished the basic draft of it all and I actually kind of liked it, which was a surprise. I have some friends from my illustrator days who work in publishing, so I showed it to them and eventually Taylor Norman at Chronicle saw it and reached out to me. Originally, the page count was I think in the nineties, and the story was even more meandering than it ended up, with all the drawings at different sizes. But together, we worked to make it more of a publishable thing, and she was then somehow able to sell Chronicle on it. It never got shopped around or anything. I sorta thought that was the normal process until I had another book idea later and realized it doesn’t usually work that way.
In terms of the story itself, I have always liked thinking about the names of places… especially ones so ubiquitous that you forget what the words in the name mean. So, originally it was just 'Long Island' which sort of led to the 'What if there was an island so long that the inhabitants had never seen the other side?'"
64 pages! How did that come about? Do you think picture books should be longer than the standard 32 pages? Are there any other longer picture books that you think work well? "Yeah, again that was sort of ignorance on my part. I knew picture books were short but I didn’t really think of it as a page count issue. The Long Island is a pretty short story. I mean, it has less words than probably most 32 page books and takes the same amount of time to read, so I thought I had checked the shortness box. If I’m confident in one aspect of my storytelling, it’s in pacing and rhythm.
So that book has a lot of pages where I was trying to give a reader a beat to slow down, breathe and maybe wonder a little bit, but the story itself is not especially long. The people at Chronicle were nice enough to get and support that. I think at one point we had it down to a shorter page count and they decided it worked better longer. It feels a little quieter and mysterious spread out this way.
In terms of longer books, I kind of still think about it the same way (even though I better understand the parameters of the form now). It still seems a little silly to limit a story by page count. If anything it feels like word count should be the thing. There are a lot of really short page count books that are a real slog to get through because they are so wordy and there are some longer ones written more economically that I think work great. The most recent example I can think of is The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder. It also has my favorite illustrations of 2021 in it, by Cátia Chien. But honestly, it's not something I ever think about when I'm reading a picture book, unless it starts to feel like a drag of a reading experience, then I might check."
For those who love The Long Island, can you recommend a few other titles that you think they might also enjoy? "Haha, I think that might be a small club. I think that tonally it’s maybe more in line with a lot of European picture books. I guess I’d direct people to places like Flying Eye. Maybe Millions of Cats? (That’s half a joke)."
Are there any other philosophical picture books you love? "I generally admire Leo Lionni’s philosophical tone. Frog and Toad conversations definitely."
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" This is REALLY hard, and as soon as I hit send, 30 more will pop into my head."
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I actually don’t follow kid’s book publishing that closely and am usually late to find out what cool things are being made. I’m still a school teacher most of the time. I think that the Pumphrey Brothers have one coming out this year, but it's just random that I know that. Anyway, all their stuff is really well done and admirable. I'm a big fan of anything laboriously handmade."