Interview with Jessixa Bagley, BOATS FOR PAPA
Buckley and his Mama live in a cozy cabin by the ocean. He loves to carve boats out of the driftwood he finds on the beach nearby. He makes big boats, long boats, short boats and tall boats, each one more beautiful than the last, and sends them out to sea. If they don't come back, he knows they've found their way to his papa, whom he misses very much.
BOATS FOR PAPA
By Jessixa Bagley
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (June 30, 2015)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Boats for Papa?
"I sort of had one of those lightning idea moments with Boats for Papa. It just came to me and wasn’t until I was done with the book that I realized it was basically the story of my childhood. Like Buckley, I was raised by my mom (my parents divorced when I was very young) and I had a long-distance relationship with my dad—not through boats, but rather phone calls, visits, and letters. My mom always encouraged me to make art—just like Mama in the story. The absence of Papa in the story is like the one in my own life
and left me focusing on who was there day-to-day to support me: my mom. I guess it’s like a love note to my mom in that way."
Boats for Papa explores loss and healing so beautifully. Are there other picture books
you love for how they explore loss or healing? "I love Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies. That is such a touching story and so delicately handles the passing of a grandparent. I also am just in awe of The Longest Letsgoboy, by Derick Wilder and Cátia Chien, that recently came out. It gives a look at death from the perspective of the dog, not the owner, offering so much hope and warmth. You really feel wrapped in love when you read it.
Also, Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper. Goodness, that is a sweet book and also makes me SOB. All those books handle the transition of death in a beautiful way but give the reader insight on how to move on and welcome new joy with old memories."
Do you have a favorite bookstore? "Being born an Oregonian, Powell’s Books in downtown Portland was a fixture in my life and part of my childhood in a very special way. It was a place that I would go with my family all the time that involved ritual and routine—much like the way some people attend church.
I was so small walking through the stacks of books. I felt excited and at the same time also humbled by what was around me. Being there seeing all those books made me feel like I was almost in the presence of royalty. There was nothing more important than books and the people that made them. Even though I don’t live in Portland anymore, I still consider it a home away from home."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "My top 100 would definitely be peppered with what I’ve listed above, but I have to include Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. That book was so magical to me as a child. I loved the graphic illustrations of the pasta taking over the town! I also would probably put Ms. Nelson Is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall. Another favorite from my childhood. I’ve thought about certain pages of that book my whole life.
Also, Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty. I didn’t get introduced to that book until I was an adult but it’s strange, more detailed than any other book I’ve read, and it’s incredibly fun—it’s absolutely perfect."