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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Mags DeRoma, AWAKE

In a big, big city on a busy street at the tipity-top of a tall building lives a girl. One night, after a story, a snuggle, and one last sip of water, she was getting sleepy...when out of the corner of her eye... SPIDER. The girl was no longer sleepy. Now, she was...AWAKE.

Max's Boat Pick:


By Mags DeRoma

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (October 19, 2021)

Can you tell me the origin story behind Awake? (It's such an amazing premise by the way. My two daughters are absurdly scared of spiders, so your book clearly resonates.) MDR: "Yes! Awake has a few life experiences in its origin story. My sister had a mouse in her closet one winter. And she, at the time, did not do well with creatures (she's since come around :)). So I was talking through her options with her, and suggested naming it. Once it had a little personality, it became a little less scary. Just a mouse, being a mouse. This was the original turning point for Awake. It evolved, but that story was very much an inspiration point."

For those who love Awake, can you recommend another picture book that you think they might also enjoy? The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen is one of my favorite twists, and dabbles a little in, well, darkness. I was always a kid who was intrigued by such things. I also loved an old book called The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway. It's about a swarm of wasps that comes to a town and takes over... and the townspeople have to figure out what to do about the relentless wasps. They get wonderfully creative in the process (though, spoiler alert, this is not a story about empathy, and the wasps do not fare as well as our dear spider!). I enjoy how BIG the creativity gets in this book (and have always adored the illustrations)."

The sentence that immediately comes to mind when I read Awake is that great one from the duck in The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen: "I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten." The duck takes agency over his bad situation, as does your character over her bad situation (or at least what she thinks is a bad situation). Are there other picture books you love about empowerment? "(The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse is wonderful!) The book that comes to mind for me is Life Doesn't Frighten Me, a poem by Maya Angelou set to paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat. If you didn't have a certain confidence before reading, you will on finishing this incredible pairing of brilliant minds."

The book I could have used in childhood is Mark Twain's Advice to Little Girls, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. Irreverent, hilarious, and delivered with perfect trademark Twainian wit."

Who are some other brave heroines (in picture books) that you admire? "Roald Dahl's Matilda is a character I just want to squeeze—she is led by curiosity and responds to adversity with cleverness and creativity, and delivers little doses of justice. All from a huge, open heart. And I love Mary's style of bravery in Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley (A true story, and the illustrations are delightful as well!)"

Who are some illustrators you admire for their unique style? "There are just. so. many! Both Beatrice Alemagna and Victoria Semykina are illustrators that I hold on pedestals. I love their ingenuity, their mark-making, and, respectively, the way they approach subject and composition. They are so different from one another but I feel a specific and similar kind of magnetism from each, and I strive to create that feeling in my work (again, my work is so different, just chasing a feeling!).

Cindy Derby captures light like an absolute mystic. M. Sasek is a big influence. Isidro Ferrer is incredible. Of course, Quentin Blake and Marla Frazee, who capture humanity in a way I cannot (yet). Józef Wilkoń's textures and creatures. Olivier Tallec! Isabelle Arsenault. Gris Grimley! And Gyo Fujikawa is the first artist whose name I remembered as a kid because I loved her art so much.

What did you love reading to your kids when they were 3? When they were 5? "My kiddos are 12 and 7 now, and my 7-year-old still loves listening to stories between Dog Man books by Dav Pilkey (I think my older son listens in, too, secretly, from across the room :)).

At age 3, I could read Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler until my head popped off...I love the rhythm, the repetition, the 'dripping wet frog with a dripping wet wand.' AH! Just so FUN.

Some other faves—We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon and Jake Parker (I am a big Michael Chabon fan and ran to grab this book the second it came out), The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, Where the Wild Things Are (of course) by Maurice Sendak, Geraldine Pu and her Lunchbox, Too! by Maggie P. Chang, There Are Cats in this Book by Viviane Schwarz, and Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson."


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