Interview with The Fan Brothers, IT FELL FROM THE SKY
It fell from the sky on a Thursday. None of the insects know where it came from, or what it is. Some say it’s an egg. Others, a gumdrop. But whatever it is, it fell near Spider’s house, so he’s convinced it belongs to him. Spider builds a wonderous display so that insects from far and wide can come look at the marvel. Spider has their best interests at heart. So what if he has to charge a small fee? So what if the lines are long? So what if no one can even see the wonder anymore? But what will Spider do after everyone stops showing up?
Pick by The Pumphrey Brothers, The Old Boat:
IT FELL FROM THE SKY
By Terry Fan and Eric Fan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 28, 2021)
Can you tell me the origin story behind It Fell From the Sky?
Eric: "Like all our books, It Fell from the Sky had its start as a standalone image Terry and I did about ten years ago. It showed a group of insects wearing top hats surrounding a marble that had fallen into the garden. When we start writing a book, we like to use an image as a starting point, as a springboard for our imagination. As you go through the process of interrogating the image the story begins to slowly reveal itself. It’s the same process we used for our last three books, and it tends to work much better than starting with an empty page, which is always a little daunting."
Terry: "Another inspiration for It Fell from the Sky is the fact that Eric and I both collected marbles when we were younger. We loved the mystery and beauty of these humble little glass worlds. Over time we discovered that there were rare marbles and handmade marbles that were nearly a hundred years old. They all had evocative names like onionskins, 'end of the day' marbles, agates, gooseberries, micas, lattice-core, Benningtons, lutzes, and sulphides. We learned to identify the handmade ones by the two rough patches at the marble’s poles, known as pontils. The pontils are where the marble was cut from its cane by a glassmaker. For our story, we used the most recognizable, machine-made marble, which is the cat’s eye. Since the book is partly about discovering the wondrous in the mundane, we wanted something very ordinary that was still intriguing and mysterious, when taken out of context."
Your penultimate double-page spread was just breathtaking. Are there any double-page spreads that really stand out to you? Eric: "Thank you! The two recent examples I can think of were both gatefold spreads. There’s a spectacular one in I Talk Like a River, by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith, and a lovely gatefold spread of a lemon meringue pie in Nice Try, Charlie! by Matt James. Come to think of it, maybe we should have made our penultimate spread a gatefold!"
Your books always seem to have this larger message, which you deliver with such nuance and care. So I'm curious to know: What do you think the best picture books do?
Eric: "Thank you! That’s so nice to hear. We always strive to deliver a message that isn’t too didactic, that emerges naturally from an entertaining story. For me the most important aspect of a book is to expand the boundaries of the reader’s imaginative world. I just read a middle grade novel called In the Wild Light, by Jeff Zentner, and one of the characters says at one point: 'fear wants to make your life small.' I think books, at their best, do the opposite. Books want to make your life large, your empathy and imagination more expansive, your dreams bigger."
Terry: "Yes, thanks for such a lovely compliment. I think the best picture books can be appreciated on different levels, Where the Wild Things Are being a perfect example. For very young readers, it can be enjoyed simply as a magical adventure. However, it offers much more and lends itself to deeper analysis. That’s one of the reasons it impacted me so much as a child because even if I couldn’t fully understand the underlying psychological complexities of the story, I could sense it on an emotional level, which imbued the book with even more mystery and power. Kids love to be challenged in that way, and in my case, Where the Wild Things Are went beyond entertainment and acted as a springboard for my developing imagination."
You have such a distinctive visual style. Who are some other illustrators you admire? Eric: "There are so many. As far as contemporary illustrators, just to name a few:
Sydney Smith, Small in the City
Isabelle Arsenault, Colette’s Lost Pet
Carson Ellis, Du Iz Tak?
Matthew Cordell, Wolf in the Snow
Christian Robinson, Last Stop on Market Street
Dena Seiferling, King Mouse
K-Fai Steele, A Normal Pig
The Pumphrey Brothers, The Old Truck
Matt James, The Funeral
Cindy Wume, Ten Little Dumplings
Kadir Nelson, The Undefeated
Esme Shapiro, Alma and the Beast
Julie Morstad, Time is a Flower
Phoebe Wahl, The Blue House
Marianna Coppo, Such a Good Boy
Jon Klassen, This Is Not My Hat
Brendan Wenzel, They All Saw a Cat
Benji Davis, The Storm Whale
Shaun Tan, Eric
Matt Forsythe, Pokko and the Drum
Daniel Miyares, Hope at Sea: An Adventure
Akiko Miyakoshi, The Way Home in the Night
David Biedrzycki, Invasion Of The Unicorns
Dan Santat, After the Fall "
Terry: "All of the ones Eric listed! There are many others, and I couldn’t possibly list them all here, but I’ll add some that Eric hasn’t mentioned already:
Eliza Wheeler, Home in The Woods
Rashin Kheiriyeh, Story Boat
Kenard Pak, The Fog
Jillian Tamaki, They Say Blue
Marc Martin, A Forest
Sophie Blackall, Hello Lighthouse
Pete Oswald, The Bad Seed
Samantha Cotterill, Charlotte and the Rock
Chuck Groenink, Hungry Jim
Katie Cottle, The Blue Giant
Sabina Gibson, Unicorn Magic
Chris Turnham, The Wish Tree
Chow Hon Lam, The Bold, Brave Bunny
Scott Magoon, Breathe
Sandra Dieckmann, The Secret Forest
Brian Floca, Locomotive
Jacqueline Alcántara, Jump at The Sun
Charly Palmer, Keep Your Head Up
Mark Teague, Cat Dog
The O’Hara Sisters, Frindleswylde
Jay Fleck, Tiny T. Rex
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future?Eric: "It’s always tough to know what will be considered a classic in the future. This is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen seems like an obvious choice. The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg, which I guess is already a classic? I’d love to see any of the books already listed become a classic, too."
Terry: "I can think of many contemporary picture books that deserve to become classics, but it’s very tricky to predict, so I won’t even hazard a guess. Consider Goodnight Moon. It’s one of the most popular picture book classics of all time, and yet it performed poorly when it was first published. It was even banned for a time. I always found it so sad that Margaret Wise Brown didn’t live long enough to see her book become the classic that it was destined to become. A true classic persists for generations, so at the very least, it takes decades for a book to become a classic. Enough time is needed for kids to grow into adulthood and then pass on the love of a book they remembered from childhood to their own children, and then so on."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? Eric: "I’ll just name my two of my favorite picture books: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, which my parents read to me a hundred times when I was little, maybe a thousand times, at my insistence. Then there’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and basically anything by William Steig. He’s such a brilliant writer, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble goes to some unexpectedly dark places for a picture book; there’s genuine existential dread in the story, which gives it a lot of punch and emotional resonance."
Terry: "I'll have to repeat Where the Wild Things Are, because it has always been my favourite. A