Interview with Sally-Lloyd Jones, TINY CEDRIC
Tiny Cedric, King ME the First has banished anyone taller than him from his palace. Which is everyone, basically. The only ones left are the babies. And now they’re in charge of the Royal Duties! How will Cedric cope—especially now that he must kiss boo-boos and read bedtime stories? Will he become a kinder, gentler, BIGGER king?
Max's Boat Pick:
Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins
Publisher: Anne Schwartz Books (February 8, 2022)
Can you tell me the origin story behind Tiny Cedric? SLJ: "Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. I found Tiny Cedric on the shortest street with the longest name. It’s a bit of a funny name. It is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate Street. It’s in York and apparently it is the shortest street in England.
And I started wondering—who would live on the shortest street with the longest name? Immediately the answer came—the shortest king on the biggest throne of course. And then, as most stories go, I just had to follow the clues. And get out of the way and let the story through.
Rowboat Watkins’ illustrations for Tiny Cedric are comic masterpieces. Laugh out loud funny. Each page gives the child so much detail to pore over and notice. In a picture book the words aren’t supposed to do all the work. The illustrations carry at least half of the story. And it’s what you see Rowboat do so masterfully. I can’t get enough of Rowboat’s Tiny Cedric! For more detailed things about how Tiny Cedric came to be, including how Rowboat found Tiny Cedric, more here.
For those who love TINY CEDRIC, can you recommend one or two other titles you think they might also enjoy, and why?
"Goldfish on Vacation Because of Leo Espinosa’s illustration. Because it’s a true story of what actually happened one summer in a little corner of NYC. Because it’s filled with light and hope. Because it’s about how one man brought laughter and joy to lots of children and their goldfish.
Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!) Because I love the illustrator (Neal Layton). Because it’s hysterical what he does. And at the same time as making you laugh, it actually does give you a true story-telling anatomy lesson.
Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale Because Poor Doreen (her full name is Miss Doreen Randolph-Potts) will make you Laugh. She is on a journey upstream to visit her second cousin twice removed who’s just had 157 babies. And all the dire situations she meets but is completely clueless about. When she is lifted out of the water on the fishing pole, for instance, she thinks she can suddenly fly. The reader/kids get to be in on the joke—shouting out panicky warnings to Doreen."
What do you think the best picture books do? "The best picture books are such a sophisticated art form that are often under appreciated. A picture book is a story told in two languages: word and image. The two complement each other. In a good picture book they amplify each other. As a favourite editor of mine says: one plus one equals more than two. Together they create something greater than either one could do alone.
The other thing about picture books is that the writer never dreams of telling the illustrator what to draw. Any more than the illustrator tells the writer what to write. I love picture books for that—it’s a beautiful collaboration. And it’s a great exercise in constantly making sure the story is the thing, and the reader.
Not your ego or your words. It’s a good reminder of the good things that come of checking your ego at the door.
Sorry is it alright if I share one of my own? I share only because the visual storytelling of the illustrator, David Roberts, in this book is masterful. The book is His Royal Highness, King Baby: A Terrible True Story.
The text tells the story from the big sister’s point of view of what happens when a new baby is born into the family. (Speaking as a big sister I know how traumatic it can be for the older sibling!) So on one level you have the narrator (the big sister) telling you the story—the tragic Cinderella type tale of a beautiful kind hearted girl who is kicked off the throne by the new ruler (baby) and treated like a poor orphan child who has to get her own breakfast, etc.
But the illustrations are right there telling you quite another story (for example, you spot the hand of the mother coming into the picture, handing a plate of eggs to her). It makes for a counterpoint that leaves the child so much to notice and giggle over and talk about.
Which is another hallmark of a good story—it leaves room for the reader.
One that isn’t mine—
Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak. Any of their books. A Hole is to Dig. Open House for Butterflies. They hurt my heart they are so beautiful. The simplicity of the text and the illustrations. The unique voice. The heart. They are a perfect match."
If you have children, do you remember what you loved reading to your kids at age three? At age five? "I read picture books to my nieces and nephews and my own self. I never grew out of them. So does that count? Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey is a favourite."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "The Frances Books by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban. I love the voice. And the illustrator I love best for the Frances books is Russell Hoban’s wife, Lillian. Those are the first ones! Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey. Ditto above. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. Ditto above. George and Martha by James Marshall. Ditto above.
Too hard to choose only 2 or 3! It’s the voice that draws me in always."