Interview with Jashar Awan, ONLY ANTS FOR ANDY
Andy is a very particular anteater. He has his favorite toys, his favorite song, his favorite food... Ants! They’re the best! But when Andy goes for a sleepover with his favorite friend, Sam Sloth, he’s faced with unfamiliar things to play with―and strange new foods for dinner.
Max's Boat Pick:
ONLY ANTS FOR ANDY
By Jashar Awan
Publisher: Norton Young Readers (October 26, 2021)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Only Ants for Andy?
"Only Ants for Andy began when my family was playing an alphabet game and my wife said, 'Anteater eating an apple.' Just the thought of an anteater eating something other than ants really got my imagination going! Anteaters have pickiness built into their name and I was a picky eater growing up so I had lots of experience to draw from."
Do you have a picky eater at home? I can certainly attest to the particular pain of having two. Are there any books you admire that cover the topic well? "My son has to be a careful eater because he has a few severe food allergies, but he’s usually very excited to try new foods once he gets the ‘all clear.’ This inspired Sam Sloth’s ant allergy in Only Ants for Andy. Learning about his best friend’s allergy helps push Andy to eat some new grub.
Another book that does a great job with the topic of trying new foods is No Kimchi for Me! by Aram Kim. It tells the story of Yoomi as she overcomes her dislike of the titular food. There’s even a kimchi pancake recipe included in the back, so readers can try the dish for themselves!"
You've spent years illustrating for the New Yorker. I'm curious whether any picture book illustrators inspired your work there? "I’ve always been a big fan of William Steig! When I was little, I was inspired by Gorky Rises to make potions in the kitchen sink. Steig was a New Yorker illustrator, too. Like Steig, my editorial work was very linear (although I reinvented myself stylistically when I switched to picture books).
Can you tell me how you got started with picture books? Were there any books that made you think 'I really want to do this’? "After my son was born, I rediscovered my love of picture books. It was so much fun to start visiting Books of Wonder in Manhattan with the goal of building a little library for him.
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson was a real reminder of how fun kids books could be—fun to look at and fun to read aloud. I will always remember hearing my son’s little voice reciting the names of the puppies as they are introduced in the book. If that doesn’t make someone want to start making picture books, I don’t know what will!"
You have such a distinctive visual style. Who are some other illustrators you admire? "Ezra Jack Keats’s use of textures and bold shapes really inspires me. The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie made me want to make picture books, too.
Greg Pizzoli is another favorite of mine. The way he included real album covers in Good Night Owl inspired me to be specific with details and not be afraid of pop culture references while making Only Ants for Andy."
What books did you love as a child? "My dad read the Chronicles of Narnia to me as a bedtime
story while my brother would play toys with Mom. The next day, I’d wake up and draw an illustration for him of what had happened in last night’s chapter. My love of storytelling has always been tied to illustration!
Growing up, I loved the Nate the Great series by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and Marc Simont. Simont’s artwork really brought all the different kids' personalities to life.
I read everything by Chris van Allsburg—even if his books did occasionally spook me (The Wretched Stone reads like a horror story!).
I got the biggest kick out of James Stevenson’s Mary Ann and Louie books. They would hear their grandpa’s childhood tales and imagine him as a little kid with a mustache. That image was so funny to me! What’s Under My Bed? was my favorite from that series. It’s one of my son’s favorites now, too."
What did you love reading to your son at age three? At age five? "At the age of three, we read a lot of Early Readers—Minarik and Sendak’s Little Bear books and anything by Arnold Lobel.
I’d remembered the Frog and Toad series and Mouse Soup from when I was young, so it was fun to dig a little deeper into Lobel's bibliography and discover books like Owl at Home, Grasshopper on the Road, and Small Pig. We also read quite a few Beatrix Potter books. When I was deciding what animals should be fishing at the pier in What a Lucky Day!, I had to include a frog as a nod to The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.
At age five, we loved reading Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton. The illustrations are so bold and graphic and colorful! 'What will George do?' I love stories that ask the reader a question. Towards the end of Brave Irene, Steig asks something like, 'Would you like to hear the rest?' It makes for a fun read aloud.
Right now, my son’s been enjoying the Mr. Wolf’s Class graphic novels by Aron Nels Steinke."
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and Cátia Chien was an instant classic in my opinion. It covers big emotions in such a gentle and empathetic way. It’s the type of book that feels like it always existed.
There’s also something so classic about A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele. It feels like one of the books I read as a kid. It has such a great message about who gets to decide what is normal. I wish I’d grown up with it!"
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Most of the books I’ve already mentioned would probably find their way onto my list! They’d be joining books like—
Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans
I am a Bunny by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Doctor De Soto by William Steig
Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak
Anatole by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone
The Lion and The Stoat by Paul O. Zelinsky
The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket
and Matthew Forsythe
Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley
Mile End Kids Stories by Isabelle Arsenault
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak would take the top spot for sure. I love the way he's able to transport us to another world and back again before supper even starts to get cold."