Interview with Julia Kuo, LET'S DO EVERYTHING AND NOTHING
Love can feel as vast as a sky full of breathtaking clouds or as gentle as a sparkling, starlit night. It can scale the tallest mountains and reach the deepest depths of the sea. Standing side by side with someone you love, the unimaginable can seem achievable. But not every magical moment is extraordinary. Simply being together is the best journey of all.
Max's Boat Pick:
LET'S DO EVERYTHING AND NOTHING
By Julia Kuo
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (March 22, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Let's Do Everything and Nothing? Your book seems especially poignant given how so many families are on the go all the time. (It seems to be an affliction of modern parenting!) I love how it's a reminder to cherish what's most important—and that sometimes doing nothing can be quite necessary as well. Was that the starting point?
JK: "That’s a good guess, and I love that connection! The inspiration was actually a big trip I had planned with my then-boyfriend Albert to do a guided climb of Mt. Rainier. We trained hard for half a year, made it up to the top, and afterwards we enjoyed complete satisfaction in the emptiness of having nothing left to plan for. Albert is now my husband, and he is the very necessary 'nothing' half to my 'everything' personality! Being together has taught me about the importance of rest and finding contentment. I think this book helped me to process that being with the person you love, no matter who they are, is truly the greatest joy; that it can even inspire us to find new parts of ourselves."
You've illustrated a ton of books, but Let's Do Everything and Nothing is your author-illustrator debut. Did you find this more or less challenging? How did the process differ?
"I think most would imagine that the art and text can work together more harmoniously when they’re created by one person, and that is true! But I was surprised to come across quite a few other differences.
As an illustrator, I am hired into the editorial pipeline with the expectation that I will find a successful artistic vision for the book. I didn’t always have the benefit of that trust; in the past, I would submit samples to see if I could 'win' the illustrator spot. But these days there’s less upfront work; I receive a book request and I either accept or reject the project.
As an author-illustrator, I need to sell both the art and the text from the very beginning. The artistic vision needs to be there as early as the dummy that I put together to show to my agent, who will then pitch it to editors. In this way there’s more upfront work and uncertainty, and that seems to be the payoff for having more creative control over the entire story.
I also discovered that it’s much lonelier to be an author-illustrator! I have truly loved being paired with the authors of my books. They write stories that I would have never come up with in a million years. In this way, my creative freedom as an author-illustrator can sometimes feel limiting. And I really miss having a partner for the book launch and marketing events. It’s always so much more fun to have a companion… which brings us back to the idea behind Let’s Do Everything and Nothing! ;)"
For those who love Let's Do Everything and Nothing, can you recommend a few other picture books that you think they might also enjoy?
"Tiny, Perfect Things by M. H. Clark and Madeline Kloepper - This book is all about delighting in mundane everyday things, like the joy of finding a red bottle cap. It draws a similar conclusion to Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, that the most precious of discoveries is companionship! 'The world is full of perfect things when you come look with me.'
The Night Walk by Marie Dorléans - We experience the wonder of a family’s tranquil nighttime walk. They stay in familiar surroundings (their village and the nearby woods), but the darkness gives their small adventure an ethereal, otherworldly quality. Walk With Me by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng - This one might be a bit of a surprise, although the text is also centered around seemingly mundane events. It’s about a little girl who creates a make-believe friend to stand by her side through a life full of challenges and roughness. There are no beautiful mountains and there is no time for self-satisfied relaxation in this book; instead, we see a child’s intense desire for companionship."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?
"It's daunting to make a list like that, but here are a few that I've treasured!
Time Is A Flower by Julie Morstad
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading?
"I am so excited to read A Lotus For You in fall 2022, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Càtia Chien. I heard about the book from Minh a while back, and I think it was the first time I’d ever heard of Thich Nhat Hanh. Over the next year, I couldn’t stop coming across him. I learned that my uncle and aunt are devout Buddhists who follow his writing. Independently of them, my husband came across his teachings and started reading one of his books. I feel as if the universe is preparing me to meet this book."