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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Mags DeRoma, TO MAKE

To make . . . a cake, a garden, a song, you first gather, then make—and wait. To make a story (like this one), you gather, make, wait. To make anything—big or small—it will take some time. You may have to gather more, make more, and wait a little more, but you can create wonderful things if you just gather, make, and wait.

Pick by Carter Higgins, Big and Small and In-Between:


Written by Danielle Davis and illustrated by Mags DeRoma

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (May 31, 2022)

To Make is essentially "a manual to inspire kids to make." How do you even approach the illustrations for that?! What was your starting point? Your process? MDR: "I love that you asked about this! I always know I have a project I should work on if I immediately get lost in brainstorming. This was the case for To Make when Danielle Davis first sent me her beautiful manuscript. And I love drawing in pencil (Blackwing Matte—the best!), it's always how I start. In looking at all the sketches, I realized that I was creating the book in the manner of the manuscript... I was gathering ideas, making them into illustrations, waiting on paint to dry, or glue, or to remove the masking fluid and see the image. It only seemed appropriate to show the making of the book—through the span of the book! I filled in the blank on the refrain of the book: To make a PICTURE BOOK, gather, make, wait."

If you look at the illustrations from the beginning through the end, and pay special attention to the details, you will see that they start out in a very loose state, with only pencil and no color. Then, vignette by vignette (cake, garden, song, etc...) a color or texture gets added. The last spread is a cacophony of creation...all the colors and collage and textures and people! from the entire book. This concept is something I hope gets unravelled by readers as they read it again and again."

What materials and mediums did you use, and how did it differ from the materials and mediums used in Awake? "I wanted to use every art supply ever made for the art in To Make! My approach to the final art was simply, PLAY. I tried a million things, sometimes to major frustration, to get a layered, soft, yet whimsical approach that builds over the course of the book. To do that, I used: pencil, powdered graphite, soft pastel pencils and powders, finger tips, gouache, painted bits of paper, lots of erasers, glue, and masking fluid (look at the trees for this bit—I wanted to use dots to nod to Gyo Fujikawa's influence, but to make them my own).

Awake was all-collage-all-the-time, acrylic and gouache on paper, cut and glued. So the art for To Make was an evolution of that with some merry additions."

For those who love To Make, can you recommend another picture book that you think they might also enjoy ? "I hope To Make inspires readers to do just that: to MAKE. In a similar vein, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen makes me want to yarn bomb my whole life. And I cannot knit. The main character, Annabelle, is quietly relentless in her pursuit of making the world a little more soft and colorful, with steady patience, and I very much relate to that."

You and Danielle Davis have a mutual reverence for Gyo Fujikawa. What do you love about her work? What is your favorite book of hers and why? "Gyo is such a legend. She is a solid visual pillar in my childhood...I love Come Follow Me, and can still hear my Dad's voice reciting some of the poetry ("Someone came a knocking at my wee, small door...."). I can remember pushing my nose right up against the pages to try to understand how she achieved such softness of texture, such beauty. I love her children, and little fairies and gnomes. Everything she does holds a holy magic for me."

What upcoming picture books are you most looking forward to reading? "My friend Gela Kalaitzidis is publishing her first book this fall, Ozzie & Prince Zebedee. I have seen this book develop over the past few years from a tiny seed, and CANNOT WAIT to hold it in my hands. Similarly, my dear friend Maggie Chang has book three in the Geraldine Pu series dropping very soon (these books are charm city), and Nell Plants a Tree by Anne Wynter and Daniel Miyares looks wonderful."

What contemporary picture books do you hope will become the classics of the future? "Mina by Matthew Forsythe is a recent fave. It has the charm, the evergreen tone of magic with a bit of darkness (my sweet spot), and Matthew's mesmerizing illustrations as the sugar on top. Circle Under Berry by Carter Higgins is an instant classic. Carter managed to find such a fun, interesting slice of a subject (shapes, simply put) that has been featured in so many early childhood books, and it is so fresh and fun with its rolling shifts in perspective. Speaking of perspective, They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel is a work of genius. Everybody in the Red Brick Building by Anne Wynter and Oge Mora (this book shares a book birthday with Awake!) is such a fun ride.

And Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Mallaird and Juana Martinez-Neal has so much heart. I love to read detailed books about food and food preparation, especially when I can learn something about someone else's life that is different than my own—and bonus is if there is a recipe to try!

A few more recent faves: The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear and Gracey Zhang, The Old Truck by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, Wondering Around by Meg Fleming and Richard Jones, Kitty by Rebecca Jordan-Glum (so funny!), Have you ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris, Two Many Birds by Cindy Derby (also hilarious!), If You Find a Leaf by Aimee Sicuro is so beautifully creative, A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin...."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Many of the books I have mentioned here and in my earlier interview would make my list—Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson, Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis, Come Follow Me by Gyo Fujikawa, The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola, Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood, Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll...

This exercise is like walking into Tower Records...I set one foot and get lost in all the options and can't remember what I came in for. :)"

Do you have a favorite bookstore, and why do you love it? "Just one?? Both Late Sunday Afternoon and Huzzah! in Venice, CA are close to home and close to my heart (and they have been so supportive of my books!).

I have a total crush on Books are Magic in Brooklyn. I remember going there for the first time to sign copies of Awake. The magic of that moment, the excitement of signing my first pile of books in a real bookstore (and that charming site, to boot!), I randomly met Sarah Thomas who was signing Kalamata's Kitchen that day as well (another delicious book everyone should check out!)—sigh! It was just unforgettable.

The Last Bookstore in LA is just plain NEAT.

I have an affinity for Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis (and all their pets!). I love a good bookstore pet (especially in a spot as charming as theirs)."


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