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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Minh Lê, DRAWN TOGETHER

When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens—with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.


Written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (June 5, 2018)

What inspired you to write Drawn Together? ML: "The story is inspired by my relationship with all my grandparents, especially my late grandfather. Like the boy in the book, I also struggled to communicate with my grandparents because of a language barrier. I wanted to write a book that captured that struggle, but that also celebrates the depth of love that exists despite those challenges."

I love that art is what draws the boy and his grandpa together, and is what eventually (and powerfully) breaks down the seemingly impenetrable barrier between them. Are there any other picture books you love that explore the power of art? "The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper is a wonderfully spare but beautiful book about Henri Matisse's childhood that I just love. Another one is My Pen by Christopher Myers which is a stunning ode to the power of creativity."

A huge cultural gulf can sometimes form between assimilated American children and their family members, a divide you explore so well. Are there any other picture books you love that tackle this theme? "The brand new Watercress by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin is gorgeously illustrated and deftly captures the complex emotions of assimilation in a way that makes it a modern-day classic. A Different Pond by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui is another wonderful book that is infused with a quiet but deeply-moving magic."

What picture books do you love for their unique, compelling takes on family? "Dreamers by the powerhouse Yuyi Morales is one of the best picture books I’ve ever read and follows a mother and child as they build a life together in a new country. Another favorite (that my wife and I give to all the new children in our lives) is Max and the Tag-Along Moon by the great Floyd Cooper who sadly just passed away. The book itself is like a warm hug and provides comfort when we are unable to be with our loved ones."

What was your favorite picture book as a child? "Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. To me, that is a perfect picture book and captures the magic of storytelling and the imagination in such a simple yet profound way."

What do you think the best picture books do? "If you fall in love with a book as a child, that book can become a friend for life. It's a work of art that you can re-experience over the years as you grow older. And the magic of that is that as you grow, the book evolves along with you because you read it with different eyes as you hit different stages of life. I love reading books with my children and seeing the story in a much different light now that I’m a dad. For example, reading Where the Wild Things Are as a parent, I have a lot more sympathy for the mom than I did as a kid. So, if a book can capture a child’s imagination, it can continue to reveal layers of meaning over the course of a lifetime... which to me is the magic and power of picture books."

What did you love reading to your sons at age three? At age five? "My sons are 9 and 6 right now and reading is such a huge part of our lives (story time is sacred in our home). We have read so many books over the years, but one that will always stand out to me is Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dykman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora. It’s a great read-aloud about siblings… plus, I have a video of my then 2 1/2 year old reading the book aloud to his baby brother (while he was still in utero), so that’s something I will treasure FOREVER."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo. This is one of those books that I have not stopped talking about since I first read it. I describe it to people as a guided meditation led by Christopher Robin. It is a true work of art and a great example of the heights of artistry that can be achieved by a picture book."


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