- Ratha Tep
Interview with Matt de la Peña and Corinna Luyken, PATCHWORK
Explore the endless possibilities each child contains: A young dancer may grow into a computer coder; a basketball player might become a poet; a class clown may one day serve as an inspiring teacher; and today’s quiet empath might be tomorrow’s great leader.
Max's Boat Pick:
Written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers (August 30, 2022)
Matt, can you tell me the origin story behind Patchwork?
Matt de la Peña: "A lot of young people these days feel this odd pressure to hurry up and find their 'thing.' To hone in on a passion. To pick a single sport. To select a clearly-defined identity and run with it. I wanted to write something that honored the freedom of childhood with all its joys and missteps and complicated emotions. I also wanted to suggest how all of our twisting and turning journeys fit into a larger context."
Matt, your text strikes me as very personal—almost like a letter to your children. Is it meant for them, as they’re wading through childhood, trying to make sense of it all? Do you find yourself guilty of “labeling” them, too? MDLP: "Oh, man. Unfortunately, I do catch myself labeling my own children. And I’ve observed how an offhand comment from me or my wife can subtly shift the way our son and daughter see
themselves. Lately I’ve been trying really hard to show more parental restraint, to be more of a gardener and less of a carpenter (to steal an idea from Alison Gopnik). Patchwork is a letter to children, yes, including my own, but it’s also a letter to the adults in their lives. We’re not always cognizant of how profoundly we mark our little ones."
Corinna, what was your initial reaction upon reading the text? What most drew you in?
Corinna Luyken: "Right away, I was drawn into the sound and rhythm of the text. I love poetry, and almost all of my favorite picture books beg to be read aloud, for the words to take up physical space off the page. Patchwork immediately felt like this kind of book to me. I also love how the book provides this moment of pause, this opportunity to reconsider some of our ideas of what it means to be 'good at' or 'destined for' something. I see it as an invitation to think more deeply about what it means to be a beautiful human being. I love the way the book builds toward this expanded notion of beauty, while giving us the framework to see things differently."
Corinna, how did you approach the illustrations? What was your process? (Your use of color is phenomenal!)
CL: "My process always involves a ton of experimentation. I experimented with different media (watercolor and ink, collage, colored pencil) before settling on a mix of acrylic gouache, ink, and colored pencil.
I also tend to think, first and foremost, in color. So sorting out the colors of the book, and the way that the colors for each child would begin simply and grow in complexity was really fun. In the end, each child begins with a single color which begins to deepen as we learn more of their story, and then the single color is joined by other colors that add even more depth and nuance."
Matt, what do you think Corinna brought to the book that perhaps originally wasn't there? MDLP: "I’ve been a huge fan or Corinna’s work since The Book of Mistakes, and I’ve always wanted to collaborate with her. Corinna’s use of color in Patchwork is brilliant. She found a way to show the interior of each character as they slowly evolve through their respective vignette. What I love most about the art, though, is how she brings all of the vignettes together at the end of the book, showing how each story helps build up the patchwork of a community. I can’t wait for readers to see what Corinna has done in Patchwork."
For those who love Patchwork, can you recommend one or two other titles that you think they might also enjoy?
MDLP: "Alma by Juana Martinez-Neal. (Alma is frustrated by her long name until her father explains the origin of each name. Then she sees the richness of her family and how she carries them with her.)"
CL: Julie Morstad’s Time is a Flower is also one of my favorite books of the past year. The language is lyrical, the illustrations are exquisite… and it is wonderful paired with Sarah Jacoby’s equally breathtaking meditation on time from a few years ago, Forever or a Day.
Also, Me & Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera is at once a gorgeous read-aloud and a beautifully textured tribute to a day spent with someone you love."
Who are some other picture book writers that you admire? MDLP: "There are so many amazing picture book writers today. Some favorites that come to mind:
Jaqueline Woodson (Each Kindness, The Day You Begin)
Liz Garton Scanlon (All the World, Bob, Not Bob!)
Oge Mora (Saturday, Thank You, Omu!)
Bao Phi (A Different Pond)
Who are some other picture book illustrators that you admire? CL: "I have so many favorites, truly too many to list here. But three of my favorite books from last year are I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun, Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty and David Roberts, and Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin. As far as illustrators who I have a complete or almost complete collection of all of their work, my list would include: Cátia Chien, Isabelle Arsenault, Christian Robinson, Sydney Smith, Julie Morstad, Erin Stead, Carson Ellis, Jillian Tamaki, Shawn Harris, Suzy Lee, David Roberts, Jon Klassen, and Lisbeth Zwerger…for a start!"
What do you think the best picture books do?
MDLP: "I think the best picture books exist in the world of childhood. They honor child psychology. They take kids seriously, but they're also playful. They have heart. They are economical. And musical. They are both surprising and inevitable. They reflect the real world while also offering escape. They are complex and mysterious but also quite simple. They are humble. And most importantly, they understand that at their very best they are a vehicle to conversation. They are a reason for a child to be close to a parent and a parent to be close to a child."
CL: The best picture books surprise us. They take us on a journey that feels simultaneously unexpected and inevitable. To do this well, the words and pictures each have to leave a little room for the other—to surprise, to contrast, to delight. This dance between the world of image and the world of sound makes a brilliant picture book so much more than a combination of the two. It's what turns a book into a world we want to return to—again and again and again."
CL: "A few examples: Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis; both Extra Yarn and The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klasssen; School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson; My Museum by Joanne Liu; Migrant by Isabelle Arsenault and Maxine Trottier; The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper; Jon Agee’s Nothing; Michael Rosen’s SAD BOOK by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake; Saturday by Oge Mora, Mrs. Crump’s Cat by Linda Smith and David Roberts..."