Grab your basket and your coat. Put on some walking shoes. Turn the page and begin: Which story will you choose? In this choose-your-path picture book, you may find a sleeping maiden, waste away in a sticky licorice cage, discover the gold at the end of a wild goose chase, or maybe (just maybe) save yourself—and the day!
Max's Boat Pick:
ENDLESSLY EVER AFTER
Written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Dan Santat
Publisher: Chronicle Books (April 19, 2022)
Can you tell me how Endlessly Ever After came about? The concept is so phenomenally brilliant! I assume you were a big fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure series as a child? LS: "Thank you! I'm so glad you like it. I was a massive fan of the Choose-your-own books, but I was also a big fan of fairytales, especially the older darker ones. I especially loved heartbreakers, like Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. But the truth is that initially, I set out to make a pick-your-path picture book about something entirely different. My first attempt was called Hungry Jim: a book about choices. It featured a kid who woke up one morning and found he'd been turned into a lion! So then of course had to decide whether to eat his mother or not. When I showed that to my editor, she liked the story and she liked the idea of a pick-your-path structure, but she felt like Jim would be better served with a linear narrative. So we published that book in a more traditional format, and I went looking for another tale to tell. As I cast about for ideas, it seemed to me that fairy tales were a perfect fit, because kids would already be familiar with these characters and plots. Which would allow me to fracture and subvert their expectations! And because a book like this gets read over and over, I could afford to let some of the paths end in doom. That is, if you think about it, something traditional fairy tales share with the original Choose-your-own-adventure books."
For those who love Endlessly Ever After, can you recommend one or two other picture books that you think they might also enjoy? "Sure! I highly recommend The End by David LaRochelle and Richard Egielski. It's a fairy tale, but it also uses a really unusual structure. It's genius. Oh, and I LOVE Dangerously Ever After by Dashka Slater and Valeria Docampo. Amanita is my kind of princess!"
Are there any other fractured or modern takes on fairy tales that you admire? "There are so many! Of course, I'm a massive fan of Shannon Hale's Books of Bayern. All of them are wonderful, but The Goose Girl is probably my favorite. And if you haven't read Emily Jenkins' Brave Red, Smart Frog, you need to! Emily is one of my favorite authors, and she somehow brings new life to the stories, without losing a more traditional tone. These aren't picture books. I hope that's okay? I'll also say that I think we limit ourselves when we don't expand our sense of what we mean by 'fairy tale.' So many books offer the same kind of magic and myth but draw on folklore from other cultures. For instance, Tracey Baptiste is doing amazing things for all ages with her Jumbies series, and now with her new picture book, Looking for a Jumbie, illustrated by Amber Ren. Those are fairy tales too!"
Are there any other "interactive" picture books—ones in which the reader plays an active role—that you admire? "You know it's been interesting to me, to find people using the word 'interactive' about Endlessly Ever After. I hadn't thought about it that way before it published, and I think it's because on some level, I think of all picture books as interactive. Most of them have visual subplots, hidden secrets, embedded puzzles. So I haven't thought much about which other books are considered interactive. But I recently fell for Carter Higgins' Circle Under Berry, and that definitely fits the bill! The levels of economy and invention in that book really took me by surprise!"
What do you think the best picture books do? "Oh, the power of picture books is that they can do almost anything! Longer prose gets trapped by the need for a compelling narrative, but picture books aren't stuck with that conflict/resolution formula. I love all kinds of picture books, but my favorites are probably the ones that prize poetry over story. It's the language that matters most to me, the lines that get stuck in my head after a single reading. My favorite books from childhood were lilting dancing things like When the Sky is Like Lace by Elinor Lander Horwitz and Barbara Cooney or Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer and Marvin Bileck. More recently, The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson knocked me out."
Do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? "At age three they were obsessed with The Donut Chef by Bob Staake. I think I can still recite it from memory. It's drilled into my brain. And Monsters on Machines by Deb Lund and Robert Neubecker. My younger son liked anything with bulldozers. At age five they were both drawn to nonfiction. Informational books about knights and armor. Stuff like that. Those weren't my favorites, personally, but my kids have always read very differently than I do, and that's a good thing. Left to my own devices, I'd have been reading them When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne every night. I was a really old-timey bedtime reader."
What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future? "Oh, so many! It's hard to choose. I love The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken. I think The House that Once Was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith is extraordinary. But if I had to pick one picture book that I think will last, it's School's First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson. It's just a perfect picture book. It accomplishes so much in such a quiet way."
What upcoming picture books are you most looking forward to reading? "It's already out, but I still haven't gotten my hands on Otto: a Palindrama by Jon Agee, and I'm dying to! Typically, I'm aware of so many books before they publish, but one effect of the pandemic is that I haven't been spending time at conferences and festivals, talking to other folks about the books they're waiting for. So I'm a little out of the loop right now." What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Probably my top two picture books of all time are Mister Dog by Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams and Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight. I loved them both beyond all reason as a kid, and it's hard to get past my nostalgia for them, but I do think that in different ways, they're both extraordinary books, and they hold up so well."
Do you have a favorite bookstore, and why do you love it? "Ach, that's an impossible question! I have so many bookstores I love, full of people I love. But I have to go with my sister's bookstore, The Ivy Bookshop. It's in Baltimore (which is also my favorite city). The Ivy is an unusual place. Of course, it's an amazing store, full of wonderful booksellers, but it also has three acres of gardens that make it a special kind of community resource, especially in a world where outdoor spaces are increasingly critical. Everyone should go visit when they're in the area!"