- Ratha Tep
Interview with Julie Falatko and Ruth Chan, RICK THE ROCK OF ROOM 214
Rick is a rock. For as long as he can remember, he’s lived on the Nature Finds shelf in Room 214 alongside an acorn, some moss, and a piece of bark. One day, the teacher shows the class what rocks do outdoors, and Rick is captivated. Exploding out of volcanos? Plunging off cliffs? Now Rick’s determined to get outside—after all, he’s a rock, and rocks are made for adventure.
Max's Boat Pick:
RICK THE ROCK OF ROOM 214
Written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Ruth Chan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (August 30, 2022)
Julie, can you tell me the origin story behind Rick the Rock of Room 214?
Julie Falatko: "My writing process is to take a sliver of an idea, add in whatever my current mood is, and see what happens. Then I let the story sit and come back later to see what I’ve got. For this story, which I started in 2018, it was about a girl and her best friend, a rock. They were both lovable weirdos, and then they got trapped in a fire. I don’t think about how picture-book-appropriate a story is when I’m first writing it, and this one, when I came back to it, I realized it was way too scary and dramatic. But that rock – there was something there."
There are a number of picture books that have characters expanding their horizons and charting their own adventurous path. But having a character retreat back to the comfort of the known after doing so is less familiar. Was this important to you, and if so, why?
JF: "It wasn’t something I set out to do intentionally, but it happened instinctually, because that’s me. I love getting out and having adventures, but what I love even more is arriving back at home, having successfully completed an outing."
Ruth Chan: [raises hand] "Also very much me."
Ruth, what was your initial reaction upon reading the text? What most drew you into the story?
RC: "I knew before I even read the manuscript that this book was one that I was going to love illustrating. Having worked with Julie before, and knowing we share the same sense of humor and vision in making a book, it was more of a, “I can’t wait to see what Julie has cooked up this time” thing. I was excited to illustrate an inanimate object as a character, but was also so charmed by Rick and his enthusiasm for adventure but his ultimate love for his friends."
Julie, what do you think Ruth brought to the book that perhaps originally wasn't there? Were there certain aspects of her illustrations that took you by surprise?
JF: "I love the way Ruth made the entire classroom so detailed and full of personalities. When I was writing this, I was focusing on Rick and his friends on the Nature Finds shelf. But the drama on that shelf ends up seeming even more poignant in contrast to all of the action and exuberance that’s happening with the kids.
A welcome not-surprise was the rock puns Ruth put in the illustrations. I’m so glad for those."
RC: "I really should have consulted you on more rock puns. You are so much better at that stuff than I am!"
JF: "We are both equally rock-solid on this matter."
Ruth, you’re known for creating playful, expressive characters. How did you approach illustrating a rock, something that’s supposed to be … static?
RC: "I will admit, having a character that technically is incapable of moving was a challenge– but a fun one! Because I knew that Rick wouldn’t have any ability to demonstrate body language, all of his personality had to be shown in his facial expressions. I experimented with dozens of Ricks– from shape to placement of his eyes– until I found the combo that worked, and now it’s hard for me not to believe he doesn’t actually exist!"
JF: "He does exist, in one sense. Ruth asked if I had any ideas for how he should look so I found a good rock outside and sent it to her in the mail. So there is a real rock, in Ruth’s studio."
I LOVED your first book together, The Great Indoors. That was about outdoor creatures exploring the indoors, while Rick the Rock of Room 214 is about an indoor “creature” yearning for the outdoors. Is this just coincidence? Or part of some grand plan? Are there more collaborations in the works?
JF: "Thank you so much! We had so much fun working on The Great Indoors, and I’m so glad we got to make another book together. It’s part of our grand plan. I’ll let Ruth explain all the details of our grand plan. She’s more of a planner than I am."
RC: "I love planning. And our Super Grand Plan is basically to keep getting to make books together. And do school presentations together. Basically find any excuse to be together."
JF: "It’s a good plan."
For those who love Rick the Rock of Room 214, can you recommend one or two other titles that you think they might also enjoy?
JF: "I will forever recommend The Bad Chair by Dasha Tolstikova. If Rick has you wanting another book about a normally-inanimate object with a big personality, you can’t go wrong with The Bad Chair."
RC: "I was going to say The Bad Chair too!"
JF: "It’s so great."
What was your favorite picture book as a child? RC: "Richard Scarry books were my favorite growing up, and are on the top of my 100 best picture books of all time. I was a very reluctant reader, but I remember being enamored by and getting lost in Richard Scarry’s books. I loved all the little, silly details he put in his books. I loved looking for the pickle car and a character with a pineapple hat, and I could spend hours just poring over all the little things he included. I think those tiny details like unexpected elements, facial expressions, and goofy moments are something I’ve definitely brought into my own books, and I have Richard Scarry to thank for that!"
JF: "I loved Dooly and the Snortsnoot Jack Kent. It’s about a kid giant named Dooly who is the size of a regular human kid. Jack Kent draws amazing facial expressions. Through half the book, Dooly has undereye circles that make him look quietly miserable, like he hasn’t slept well in a while. This book is about a giant saving his friend from a monster, but it’s about a lot more than that. I was obsessed with the page where the Snortsnoot is trying to eat Dooly, opening his mouth so wide."
What do you think the best picture books do?
RC: "The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder and Cátia Chien is an example of what the best picture books do. They don’t shun away from real emotional experiences (even if they’re hard), they use language that is beautiful yet succinct, and they feature art that makes you feel all sorts of things.
I’m also a sucker for humor—any humor—in a book. It doesn’t have to be slapstick, loud humor. It can be a visual joke, a facial expression, a quiet detail."
JF: "To me, the best picture books have layers of story. Because they are often read over and over, the best ones can be interpreted differently by readers of different ages and experiences. I think they get there through what Ruth is talking about (and thank you for recommending The Longest Letsgoboy: it’s incredible) – emotional honesty. If there’s emotional truth in the story, a sense of a real experience, then it will work in a lot of ways. I love a book that reads as a straightforward story at first, but opens itself up on repeat readings. Every book by Thao Lam does this for me. Everything she does is heartfelt genius."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?
JF: "I’ll list one, because if I list two I’ll have to list 100. Amos and Boris by William Steig is my favorite picture book of all time. It’s funny, it’s beautiful, it’s heartbreaking and wondrous, and uses language in a way I will forever aspire to."
RC: "Oh gosh, where do I begin. I’d say any Jon Agee book. They are so simple yet deep, clever and hilarious. And Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. It’s just perfection."