Interview with Lane Smith, A GIFT FOR NANA
A thoughtful little Rabbit sets out to find the perfect gift for his Nana. He knows she will love anything he brings her but Rabbit wants this gift to be extra special. As he travels on his quest, Rabbit encounters an assortment of creatures-a crow, a smiling full moon, a stickler (whatever that is), a big fish, and a volcano. Each is certain they offer the best advice but nothing they suggest seems right for his Nana. It's not until Rabbit reaches the highest peak, that he finds exactly what he's been searching for.
Pick by Bob Shea, Chez Bob:
A GIFT FOR NANA
By Lane Smith
Publisher: Random House Studio (April 12, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind A Gift for Nana?
LS: "The character of Nana is based on my mom. Everyone called her Nana and she was a big kid at heart. I know I became a children’s book creator due to Mom’s influence. Growing up, our house was filled with toys and dolls and stuffed animals. Hers, not mine.
When I was around eight years old I saw Mom admiring a big jar of striped peppermint sticks at a store. It looked like something from an old candy shoppe or apothecary. That Christmas I set out on my bike (this was in the 1960s when a kid was safe to roam unaccompanied). I rode through rocky fields and past the giant rusty Sunkist lemon factory and over hills and on back roads until I finally arrived at the store. I pulled out all of my saved-up change and bought that big candy-filled jar. I wasn’t thinking ahead, the ride home took twice as long trying to pedal and balance the jar on my handlebars. But I eventually made it and on Christmas day Mom (Nana) couldn’t believe I remembered that jar.
Funny sidebar: thirty years later my wife Molly and I were at Nana’s house for Christmas. Molly saw a candy jar and reached in for a stick. Nana said, 'Uh, you probably don’t want to eat that.' Yes! It was the same candy jar filled with the same candy. She put it out every Christmas. I can’t believe its contents had never been raided by ants.
Anyway, we lost Mom a couple of years ago. A Gift for Nana was the only book I’ve written that was not a struggle. It seemed to write itself and I only realized halfway into it that I was retelling that Christmas candy story but with a giant carrot instead of a giant candy jar and with a rabbit filling in for Nana. The mind is a weird thing."
You've once said that it's the best time ever for kid's books. "Now, it’s kind of a given that books not be too sugary and have a nice design and look." One perfect example, in my opinion: A Perfect Day. What are some other picture books that you think define what you've described? "Thanks for mentioning A Perfect Day. It’s a favorite book of mine. Well, I would not limit it to a specific book but the folks who I think are doing consistently handsome, smart books, the folks whose new books I always check out are (off the top of my head):
Bob Shea, Phil Stead, Kadir Nelson, Julie Fogliano, Jory John, Sergio Ruzzier, Laurie Keller, Corinna Luyken, Peter Sis, Juana Martinez-Neal, Erin Stead, Christian Robinson, Kate DiCamillo, Sydney Smith, Jon Klassen, Kevin Henkes, Mac Barnett, Carson Ellis, Julie Morstad, Loren Long…
I know I am leaving out a lot of folks and will hear about it later."
What do you think the best picture books do? Is there a book that you think does this
particularly well? "I will buy a book with great illustrations even if the story is not so great. I rarely buy a book with a great story but mediocre art. I guess that’s why they call them picture books. But the best books have both great art, story, and if you are really lucky, design. Those books are rare if you ask me. This leads into your next question…"
What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future?
"Chez Bob by Bob Shea
When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie Morstad
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
Nicky and Vera by Peter Sis
Just a few recent ones that come to mind."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time?
"Well, any website called Max’s Boat has to start with Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice
Sendak. In my opinion, still the greatest marriage ever of perfect pictures and perfect words.
Other Best Picks are:
Swimmy by Leo Lionni
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. (Actually, every Steig book.)
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst and Erik Blegvad
Aesop’s Fables selected and adapted by Louis Untermeyer, with pictures by Alice and Martin Provensen
Arnie the Donut by Laurie Keller
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson
The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide and Edward Gorey
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
I could easily add another 20 books to that list."
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I don’t have access to the trades and try not to look at industry blogs so I don’t really know what is coming up but one book that I do know about and one that I have been waiting for and that I finally got my hands on yesterday is The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen. A book about my favorite illustrators of all time. Their work is glorious and the book features a lot of original art. Amazing.
(My only quibble: the work is reproduced so small. It’s like looking at an exhibition catalog. I literally used a magnifying glass to study the beautiful textures and brushstrokes. Fact is, only art lovers, fellow illustrators and animators will be buying this book so why not issue it in a large format at twice the price?"
Do you have a favorite bookstore and / or library? "I am lucky to live near a great bookstore: The Hickory Stick in Washington Depot, CT. It’s a quaint little shop with a fantastic children’s book section run by really smart and friendly people. If anyone ever wants a signed book by me call them up. Next time I have to run to town for bread or birdseed I will be happy to pop in The Stick and doodle one up.
My favorite library would have to be the one I carry in my memory. It was in Corona, California in the 1960s and I can still close my eyes and walk its carpets. I can go left to find Eleanor Cameron’s Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. I can go right to find Ray Bradbury’s books. In the back are How to Draw books and in the 500s of the Dewey Decimal System, lots of books on animals. I grew up in that library."