Interview with Ruth Chan, THANK YOU, NEIGHBOR!
Join the narrator and her dog on their daily walk as they greet the people in their neighborhood—from the mail carrier and bus driver to the sanitation workers and grocery clerks and more. Whether listening, asking, helping, or just saying hello and thank you—it is our patience and kindness that make a neighborhood feel like home.
THANK YOU, NEIGHBOR!
By Ruth Chan
Publisher: HarperCollins (September 28, 2021)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Thank You, Neighbor!
RC: "The idea for Thank You, Neighbor! came in April 2020, during the worst of the pandemic in NYC. My editor, Nancy, and I discussed making a book about the essential workers helping to keep the city going. But the more I thought about how the pandemic was impacting all of us, the more I kept asking myself, 'What makes me feel safe, connected and cared for in my tiny radius?' I realized it was my neighbors -- the ones who live here, and the ones who work here every day -- and many of whom I’ve come to know over the years on my daily walks with my former dog, Feta. Besides, my friend, Brian Floca, had already snagged the idea of making a book about essential workers! The interactions between my neighbors and me, from simply greeting each other to doing little thoughtful things for each other, created a sense of much-needed connection for all of us. I wanted to make a book as an ode to our block, and specifically these neighbors, many of whom are characters in the book."
When the pandemic first hit, our worlds certainly became smaller as we all hunkered down at home. But our sense of community, as you so wonderfully explored in Thank You, Neighbor!, felt stronger than ever. Are there other picture books you love about community or connectedness? "There are so many amazing books about community and connected-ness! My favorite is Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. I remember feeling so much warmth when I read it, and I love this book so much, I actually pay homage to the book in Thank You, Neighbor!
Are there other picture books you love that were inspired, either directly or indirectly, by the pandemic? "As I mentioned, Brian Floca’s Keeping the City Going is phenomenal. That guy can sure draw a truck! We’ve been able to do a few book events together this year, and it’s been fun to see how kids relate to both our books in such real, tangible ways. I also love Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham."
You have such a distinctive illustration style. Who are some other illustrators you admire for their distinctive style? "I love Cátia Chien’s work so much, it always kind of blows my mind! Her style is the perfect combination of beautiful, funny, heartbreaking,
endearing, and unusual (in a good way!). Her latest
book, The Longest Letsgoboy, written by Derick Wilder, encompasses all of those things, while telling a tale of loss that hits you right in the heart while also giving the reader so much joy."
What do you think the best picture books do? "The Longest Letsgoboy is an example of what the best picture books do. They don’t shun away from real emotional experiences (even if they’re hard), they use language that is beautiful yet succinct, and they feature art that makes you feel all sorts of things.
I’m also a sucker for humor—any humor—in a book. It doesn’t have to be slapstick, loud humor. It can be a visual joke, a facial expression, a quiet detail."
What was your favorite picture book as a child? "Richard Scarry books were my favorite growing up, and are on the top of my 100 best picture books of all time. I was a very reluctant reader, but I remember being enamored by and getting lost in Richard Scarry’s books. I loved all the little, silly details he put in his books. I loved looking for the pickle car and a character with a pineapple hat, and I could spend hours just poring over all the little things he included. I think those tiny details like unexpected elements, facial expressions, and goofy moments are something I’ve definitely brought into my own books, and I have Richard Scarry to thank for that!"