• Ratha Tep

Interview with Kate Hoefler, RABBIT AND THE MOTORBIKE

Rabbit isn't sure he'll ever be brave enough to go on an adventure. He's a homebody who lives in a quiet field of wheat he dreams of leaving every night. His world is enlarged by his friend Dog and Dog's tales of motorbike adventures. But one day, Dog is gone, and with him, go the stories Rabbit loves so much. Dare Rabbit pick up the motorbike and live his own story?

Pick by Corinna Lukyen, Something Good:


Written by Kate Hoefler and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Publisher: Chronicle Books (September 10, 2019)

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Can you tell me the origin story behind Rabbit and the Motorbike? KH: "I slowly worked on the story over a span of about a year and a half as my life, as I’d known it, had drastically altered. I had experienced a loss, and I felt both stuck (and wanting to stay curled in a ball) and thrown into an unknown where I absolutely could not stay curled in a ball, but had to try out my legs – in some ways, for the first time. I was also acutely aware that no one could do that walking (or living) for me. I now see how much of my own grappling was the very grappling that Rabbit experiences when figuring out what to do with Dog’s motorbike – after Dog dies. What do we do with absence? How do we transform absence back into something that feels like moving forward, and loving, and living? There’s a phrase I have on my fridge that a friend once said - 'in our own patterns, in our own time,' and that’s how Rabbit progresses, and how we all progress. We all have our own timetables, and that’s okay. It's okay that birds have time to build nests in that motorbike’s spokes. I also didn’t see many picture books about fear and grief that also contained adventure and euphoria in them. Quite often, things are only just looking up at the end of the book – and while there’s nothing wrong with that structure, I wanted this story to have what surprised me most about grappling with major upheaval – that joy is still a part of your life – and will be – when you’re on rocky terrain. And while joy (during upheaval) won’t necessarily take the form of a long road trip on a motorbike for most – it might be in a friend’s laugh, a memory, a song, a bloom, a sunrise. It’s still available – right here – right in the middle of things. Sometimes between cries. One of my friends, after reading the book, said, 'I know that Rabbit.' Meaning me. And also talking about herself. I think we’re all a little of both – adventurous Dog, and slow-to-warm Rabbit. (Although I’m probably mainly Rabbit). It was really a lullaby to myself, working through how to live differently, and I had no idea just how many people of all ages would connect to it."

As Corinna Luyken had mentioned in her interview, Rabbit and the Motorbike "deal(s) beautifully with grief and healing." Are there other picture books you love that explore grief, loss or healing? "There are so many great books that deal with how to be present with difficult emotions -- and each one sorts through aspects of healing differently (which I think is so important – there's no one 'right' way). Some favorites that come to mind are Bear Island by Matthew Cordell, Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley, The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder and Cátia Chien, When Sadness is at Your Door by Eva Eland, and Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch."

I imagine language is something you pay particular attention to in picture books given your background in poetry. What are some picture books you turn to over and over for their rhythm, or for the beauty of their words? "So many! These days, I’m very much drawn to economy – books doing a lot with no waste, no excess – each word holding a lot of muscle. That’s what I keep finding stunning. Here’s a list off the top of my head (in no particular order) that serve as lanterns to me, and guiding lights for that kind of beautiful economy: Small in the City by Sydney Smith, A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead, I Am A Bird by Hope Lim and Hyewon Yum, The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc, The Dreamer by Il Sung Na, The Invisible Bear by Cécile Metzger, The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyahkoshi, The Bear and the Moon by Matthew Burgess and

Cátia Chien, The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken, Once I Was a Bear by Irene Luxbacher, The Old Truck (and The Old Boat) by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, and The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead. Two 'older' books that continue to swim in my chest for their rhythm are I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay and The Stars Will Still Shine by Cynthia Rylant and Tiphanie Beeke."

What was your favorite picture book as a child? "I had many – but one I remember lighting a fire in me (and making me want to be a writer) was When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant and Diane Goode. I think that book carried me as I got older as well and began studying writing formally. In many ways, Cynthia Rylant’s work gave me a sort of 'permission' to create as a fellow Appalachian woman."

Do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? "You know, I think we were reading the same books at 3 and 5. We had board books, but I remember mainly reading picture books – and both children sat for them, and were interested in them at a very young age. Some of our favorites were A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams, Dodo Gets Married by Petra Mathers, The Magic Bed and

Time to get out of the bath, Shirley by John Burningham, Perfect the Pig by Susan Jeschke, Imogene’s Antlers by David Small, The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammell, and we LOVED pouring over the pages of Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno. (That last page still grips me!!!!)"

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "One of THE best picture books of all time (in my own heart) is Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. It’s a book that has it all, walking a perfect tightrope between social honesty and wonder (the power of imagination), and with such a strong triumphant voice. Sometimes I think all creators are chasing a feeling that a favorite book planted in them years ago – and that’s the book I chase. The book I’ll always chase. I’m so glad it exists."